Civic Party chairman Alan Leong has told HKFP that the Hong Kong government must “come clean” and explain, after a report on Wednesday suggested officers from China’s top internal security forces were observing the city’s recent protests and unrest from the frontlines.

Reuters spoke to Democratic Party legislator James To and an anonymous foreign diplomat who said that the Hong Kong police had brought in officers from the People’s Armed Police (PAP) to monitor the demonstrations and their tactics. The presence of China’s anti-riot force – which is separate from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – was reportedly part of a wider effort by the paramilitary force to comprehend the turmoil in Hong Kong triggered by a now-axed extradition bill.

The People’s Armed Police.
The People’s Armed Police. File Photo: Wikicommons.

“I’m aware that Hong Kong police officers have taken Chinese security forces to the front during protests, apparently in an observation role,” To told Reuters.

On multiple occasions since last June, protesters had become suspicious of, surrounded or attacked Putgonhua-speakers who were present at protest scenes amid fears that mainland security personnel were involved.

In response to Reuters’ enquiries, both the Chinese Ministry of Defence and the Hong Kong police denied the presence of the PAP in the city, while the State Council Information Office and the Central Government’s Hong Kong Liaison Office did not respond.

It is nevertheless estimated that there are as many as 4,000 PAP personnel in Hong Kong, according to the diplomat and three other foreign envoys. The new estimate – which is far more than previously cited figures – was based on close scrutiny of the PAP’s response to the protests.

See also: Chinese police drill video seen as a thinly veiled warning to Hong Kong protesters

The diplomatic envoys said they believed the PAP would lead a crackdown on protests should Beijing choose to intervene, but such a deployment was unlikely as Hong Kong had a well-equipped police force. Plus, such a move would also create international repercussions.

Tuen Mun September 21 protest rally tear gas police
Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

Reuters had reported last September that an unknown number of PAP personnel had moved into bases around the city amid the ongoing unrest. However, their presence in the city had never been confirmed by the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Speaking to HKFP, former lawmaker Leong, who is also a barrister, said the PAP’s presence was not provided for in the Basic Law. While Article 14 of the mini-constitution stipulates that the Central government is responsible for the city’s defence, the Garrison Law states that the PLA is the military force stationed in the city. As the PAP operates separately from the PLA, Leong said it therefore “has no place in Hong Kong.”

“Whether the Chinese Communist Party finds it necessary for [the PAP] to be deployed here, they simply cannot do so,” Leong said.

Alan Leong
Alan Leong. File photo: Cloud.

Leong said the report from Reuters did not come as a “complete surprise,” as there had been speculation that officers from the mainland were on on the protest frontlines. While To and the foreign diplomat said they did not see any sign that the PAP had taken part in law enforcement operations, Leong said some of the clips he had seen online suggested otherwise.

“Some officers were caught on camera… talking to each other in Putonghua. From the way they used their batons or the way they made arrests, all suggested that some people from the mainland – whether it be PAP or not – had fought along[side] the Hong Kong police,” he said.

Leong added the presence of mainland officers on the frontlines could be a reason why Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Commissioner of Police Chris Tang have resisted calls for launching an independent investigation into alleged police misconduct during the protests.

“The Hong Kong police have somehow been infiltrated by personnel like the PAP. The last thing [Lam and Tang] want to see is for the PAP’s presence to be reviewed in the Commission of Inquiry,” he said.

In the Reuters report, To said the Hong Kong government and police force should “make clear what has been going on ensure one-country-two-systems is being respected.”

Charles Mok
Charles Mok. File photo: Charles Mok.

Legislator Charles Mok, who is also a member of the Panel on Security, told HKFP that lawmakers would submit questions to the government to urge them for an explanation on the PAP’s presence in the city.

“If there was nothing suspicious, why did the PAP infiltrate the police force so secretively? We hope more information will be available to exert pressure on the government to give an explanation,” Mok said.

Leong also called on the government to give reasons for the “unconstitutional involvement and participation of the PAP in the local law enforcement actions.”

“Come clean and ask for people’s pardon. If the government is not willing to own up and back down, then we will go down this collision course,” he said.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.