Hong Kong has created a new army cadet force modelled partly on the Chinese military, sparking fears of tighter controls over the city’s youth in the wake of student-led pro-democracy protests.
“Through drills and training camps, the new voluntary uniformed youth group aims to promote civic awareness,” China’s state-run China Daily reported on Monday about the formation of the Hong Kong Army Cadets.
An inauguration ceremony was held Sunday at one of the bases of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city.
The South China Morning Post reported that only pro-Beijing media were allowed to cover the event. It said the wife of the city’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying was reportedly the cadet force’s commander-in-chief.
The China Daily said the cadets’ uniform “largely resembles” the regular summer uniform of the PLA.
The Chinese military took over British army bases after the city’s 1997 handover to Beijing under a formula promising Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy”.
It was Hong Kong’s “first uniformed youth group to follow Chinese foot drill protocols”, the China Daily said.
Protesters calling for fully free elections for the city’s next leader blocked some major roads for 79 days until the sites were cleared by police in December.
In his annual policy speech last week, city leader Leung said young people must be given “advice” on Hong Kong’s relations with China.
Critics of the cadet force said it showed China’s intention to “re-educate” the city’s youth in the wake of the mass protests.
“Linking a uniformed group with the PLA is obviously a sign of building a stronger sense of national identity,” Fung Wai-wah, head of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, told AFP.
Fung described the move as “dangerous”.
Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau called the new cadet force a “worrying” sign that would fuel fears China is tightening its grip on Hong Kong.
“The (Chinese) military have for years been quite self-restrained. They don’t get involved in local things. Suddenly to do it in such a high profile way, of course people are very worried,” Lau said.
Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong could not be reached for comment on the cadet force.