Keychain and teddy bear in riot gear: Hong Kong promotes national security

HONG KONG – Teddy bears dressed in black police riot gear, on sale for over $ 60 each. Messages of gratitude to the authorities, pasted by the children on the walls of their schools. Uniformed police officers march in formation, accompanied by a simulated helicopter and hostage counterterrorism exercise.

It’s National Security Education Day in Hong Kong, the first since the Chinese central government imposed a extended security law in the territory last year.

The law, a response to months of fierce and sometimes violent anti-government protests that began in 2019, has become synonymous with authorities’ efforts to quell dissent and ensure unwavering loyalty. And Thursday’s panoply of activities indicated how they plan to do it: with a mix of cute cajoling and overt shows of force, for a law that an official says should hang over Hong Kong people like a “sword of Damocles.” “.

“Any ‘hard resistance’ that undermines national security will be overturned by law. Any “soft resistance” will be regulated by law, ”said Luo Huining, the top central government official in Hong Kong, at a ceremony inaugurating the day’s events.

The full day of activities was designed to instill in young and old alike the importance of national security. It had been widely promoted through street banners, front page ads in the city’s newspapers, and even a scrolling digital signage on one of the skyscrapers in downtown Hong Kong, among the most concentrated government propaganda efforts since the law was enacted last June.

The effects of the law have already been widely felt. The authorities quoted him to arrest a hundred people, destroy political opposition and remaking Hong Kong’s electoral system.

Even the list of speakers at Thursday’s opening ceremony highlighted how once free-wheeling Hong Kong was being remade to mirror mainland China, with the central government wresting control of local authorities.

Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, was the only seated Hong Kong civil servant to speak at the ceremony, which took place in the city’s cavernous convention center by the harbor. Other speakers included the head of the central government’s newly established security office in Hong Kong, the commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong and the branch head of the Chinese Ministry of Affairs. foreigners in Hong Kong.

“I especially thank the people of Hong Kong,” said Zheng Yanxiong, the head of the security bureau. “From not knowing, guessing, waiting and monitoring the National Security Law, they came through a very natural and reasonable process of acceptance, welcoming and support.”

After the speeches, attendees left the auditorium, each holding a tote bag featuring a personalized National Safety Education Day emblem, a shield-shaped logo, bordered by a row of books.

Outside the convention center, a helicopter hovered, part of another nearby exhibit – an open house at the Hong Kong Police College.

While the opening ceremony had showcased Hong Kong’s new reality through bureaucratic speeches, the police open house opted for the action film approach. It featured a demonstration of an anti-terrorism squad, with a police dog, hostages and an officer descending from an aerial helicopter, hugging an evacuee before being hoisted into the air again. A water cannon was also on display, a sight familiar to pro-democracy protesters against whom such devices were frequently deployed in 2019.

Officers had started the open house with a goose show. Traditionally, many disciplined services in Hong Kong, a British colony until its return to Chinese rule in 1997, had paraded in the British style. But the Chinese military is known for the distinctive goose tread, in which the leg does not bend at the knee.

“After enjoying this wonderful performance,” an official National Safety Education Day website promised, viewers would be taken inside to see the armored vehicles, the explosive disposal team. and recruiting information.

If memorabilia from the anti-terrorist protest weren’t enough to bring home, there were memorabilia available for sale. They included the teddy bear wearing riot gear, a pair of zippers attached to her chest ($ 62); key chains engraved with crowd control phrases like “Disperse or we shoot” and “Warning: Tear smoke” ($ 4 each); and a set of 18 three-inch minifigures, guns and gripping shields with police warning flags of illegal assembly (“special festive offer”: $ 114).

It seemed unlikely that any kind of protest would break out in such a heavily fortified place. Still, officials seemed eager to prevent even a hint of the so-called soft resistance Mr. Luo pointed out in his speech. As reporters waited to enter the open house, security officials asked some who wore yellow or black masks – colors associated with the pro-democracy movement – to exchange them for bruises provided by authorities.

There was at least one small protest on Thursday. As officials gathered at the convention center, four pro-democracy activists tried to walk through inner city neighborhoods, carrying a poster saying: “Without democracy and without human rights, there is no national security”. They were followed by dozens of police.

In other parts of the city, schoolchildren – including those in kindergarten – have been drafted into the promotion of national security. Education has been a special attention for the authorities, who blamed what they call biased curricula for turning Hong Kong’s youth against the government.

On Thursday morning, many schools held ceremonies to hoist China’s national flag and sing the national anthem (which the Hong Kong government makes it a crime to disrespect).

At Wong Cho Bau Middle School, which is run by a pro-Beijing teachers’ union, the principal told students in a morning assembly that national security should be mainstreamed into every part of their curriculum, including class. geography and biology, as well as weekly flag raising ceremonies.

“These daily accumulations can help us build our own national concept and identity, so as to ensure the prosperity and glory of the country,” said director Hui Chun-lung. “Then everyone should study hard. If young people are strong, then China is strong. “

Next, school officials showed colorful pieces of paper that the students had filled out and pasted onto a “community mosaic wall”. “Please express your opinion on the idea of ​​’Support national security, keep our house,’ ‘the invitee said.

In response, the students expressed their gratitude to the government and their relief that pro-democracy protests had died down. “These people protesting everywhere are intolerable, destroying public places and hurting our home,” wrote one student.

The responses of the other students were even more eloquent.

“I think the idea of ​​supporting national security and keeping our house is extremely simple! Support! Support! Extremely supportive! A student wrote. “Whatever the national security law says, it’s okay! I really don’t have an opinion!

Joy Dong contributed to the research.

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