How Beijing is mapping a mini-cultural revolution in HK

January 23, 2015 12:38
Some radical leftists in the Communist Party have called for 'national education' and other stronger initiatives in Hong Kong, evoking memories of the excesses that took place during China's Cultural Revolution. Photos: WordPress, HKEJ

In the 17-year history of the special administrative region, there were two times that Beijing has kept Hong Kong on a tight leash. The first was in 2003 after the failed enactment of the national security clause (article 23) of the Basic Law. And the second is happening right now, three years into the Leung Chun-ying administration.

After Beijing's white paper and its fake offer of a free vote, recent developments -- from Leung’s declaration of a war against separatists in his policy address to the high profile inauguration of the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association (香港青少年軍) -- suggest that some sort of a purge could be in the offing in Hong Kong. A mini-cultural revolution is looming over the territory.

The "brainwashing" nature of the army cadets association and reports of how some students were unwittingly led into it have become a popular dinnertime talk among locals. But I see more in it, especially after the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily issued an editorial in its overseas edition, saying that "the association can train and guide Hong Kong's youth to be noble and patriotic".

Let's take a look at all the VIPs who attended the inauguration ceremony last Sunday. Apart from chief executive Leung, there was Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明), director of the Central Government’s Liaison Office, and Tan Benhong (譚本宏), commander of the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison.

All of them are honorary patrons of the army cadets program while Leung's wife Regina will be these army cadets’ commander-in-chief. The association's honorary chief scout is former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, and the honorary consultants include Tung's wife Betty, chief secretary Carrie Lam, security minister Lai Tung-kwok, education minister Eddie Ng, and home affairs minister Tsang Tak-sing.

Big names in the academic and business sectors also showed up. The Hong Kong Economic Journal has noted that the association brought together virtually all big shots in town at one venue.

Now given the fact that member cadets all wear the 07-style PLA uniform and will be trained in Chinese-style parade and imparted some military skills, and given that the ceremony was held at the PLA Hong Kong Garrison’s naval base on Stonecutters Island in west Kowloon, it appears that the PLA will have a leading role to play.

Apparently, the new-born association has already dwarfed the territory's all existing unformed groups in terms of resources and support from specific government bureaus and the business sector. Beijing's lobbying with almost all of the city's schools and colleges should ensure a continuous supply of young and "trainable" patriots. Given these developments, I wonder if other student groups, like Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students, feel that they are under threat.

The association is a vehicle for Chinese-style militarism that Beijing wants to inject into the Hong Kong society. Indeed, not only in Communist regimes, similar youth groups were also found in Germany and Japan, especially during the Second World War, like the Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend) and organizations trying to whitewash and sanctify Japan’s war crimes.

The question here is such paramilitary youth groups in Germany and Japan mainly existed during the wartime, so what's Beijing’s real intention behind the army cadets association as Hong Kong is nowhere near a war?

The truth is that the association -- reminiscent of those Red Guards (紅衛兵) during China's Cultural Revolution – will be a cardinal part of Beijing’s plan against Hongkongers seeking democracy.

The association is backed by the PLA Hong Kong unit at a time when the army has abandoned its low-key status for a more proactive role in the territory. By recruiting young blood, the army can reach out to the city’s youngsters and their families to promote patriotism and Beijing’s ideology.

The PLA’s rampant corruption may also get a way into Hong Kong through such a process and I wonder whether the territory is still immune to it as a number of key watchdog positions like those in the Independent Commission Against Corruption have been taken up by Leung’s close allies.

As I have said, Leung's attack on a student publication for debating on independence marks the first move in trumping up an ultimate charge of endangering national security and territorial integrity, so that Beijing's foes can be brought down one by one. I too have been accused by the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao of acting as a brain of separatists.

Indeed, since the failed Article 23 legislation in 2003, left-wings in Beijing and the SAR government have gained an upper hand, triggering the prospect of a red scare in Hong Kong's political landscape.

Examples abound. The Liaison Office's notion of a "second team of administrators", Xi Jinping’s call for cooperation between the government, legislature and judiciary, and China’s more headstrong approach toward Hong Kong affairs in recent years all bear the hallmark. And, the SAR's governance, official publicity as well as appointment of principal officials have seen drastic changes since Leung took office in 2012.

All these could be a prelude to a purge and mini-cultural revolution under the cloak of condemning separatists, in a war plotted by radical leftists.

Political upheavals could happen over a prolonged period and Hong Kong’s future will be eventful. How long the storm will last will depend on, among other things, whether Leung will get a second term in office and, if not, who will be his successor.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 22.

Translation by Frank Chen

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal