Hong Kong marks 'national security day' with goose-steps and mascots

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Hong Kong police displayed a cuddly bear mascot, rappelled from a helicopter and goose-stepped Thursday as the financial hub held a "National Security Education Day", part of its push to boost patriotism in a city chafing under China's rule.

Beijing blanketed Hong Kong in a sweeping national security law last year in response to months of huge and often violent democracy protests that convulsed the international business hub.

Thursday's education day, the first since the security law's imposition last June, included activities across the city to burnish the security forces and outline the threats China perceives in Hong Kong.

At a morning ceremony attended by senior officials, Luo Huining, Beijing's top envoy in Hong Kong, gave a fiery speech vowing to "strike down hard resistance and regulate soft resistance". He warned that China was ready to "teach a lesson" to any foreign power trying to use the city "as a chess piece".

"For all deeds that endanger national security and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, the central authorities will take action as necessary," he said.

Over seven straight months in 2019, protesters took to the streets demanding democracy and greater police accountability -- the worst unrest since the city's 1997 handover to China.

Beijing's authoritarian leaders have dismissed the movement, portraying it as an insidious "foreign plot" to destroy China.

They have since embarked on a crackdown against critics and rolled out an official campaign -- dubbed "staunch patriots governing Hong Kong" -- to root out disloyalty towards the Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong's police college held an open day on Thursday in which officers revealed a new goose-stepping march, the same style used by police and troops on the Chinese mainland.

The display was a symbolic break from Hong Kong's British colonial past and Chinese army officers helped train police in the new style.

Tactical units then demonstrated an "anti-terrorism drill", which included officers sliding down ropes from a helicopter to shoot dead pretend armed militants and a hostage-taker.

- School activities -

On the sidelines, guests wearing "I love police" t-shirts posed for selfies with a bear mascot dressed in a tactical uniform.

Cuddly toy versions of the bear were also on sale for HK$400 ($52) alongside plastic toys of riot police officers holding shotguns and tear gas warning flags.

Schools have been a major focus for authorities as they seek to incubate loyalty from an early age. National security day activities were held across classrooms featuring games, puzzles, quizzes and flag-raising ceremonies.

Students played a key role in 2019's protests and many staged demonstrations at their schools.

Education authorities have ordered children as young as six to be taught about the four new national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Some schools on Thursday organised notice boards for pupils to write messages of thanks to the security services. Similar displays -- known as "Lennon Walls" -- were used by democracy supporters to post protest messages.

The Correctional Services Department also held an open day where guests could don a virtual reality headset to experience what it is like to be a prison guard.

More than 10,000 people were arrested during pro-democracy protests and more than 2,500 charged.

Over 100 people have also been arrested under the new security law, mostly pro-democracy politicians and opposition figures.

Protests have been all but outlawed for the last year in Hong Kong with police denying permission for rallies on security grounds or because of the coronavirus.

Gatherings of more than four people are currently banned under anti-pandemic measures.

Four democracy activists held a lonely rally flanked by dozens of police officers on Thursday morning as they condemned Beijing's new security law.

"It has been used as a tool and a weapon to deprive us of our rights, to silence all dissent, to stop us from protesting, demonstrating, from forming organisations," activist Chow Hang-tung told reporters.