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Shrugging off end of US training programmes, Hong Kong police insiders say ‘any other country can serve the same purpose’

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 16/7/2020 Christy Leung christy.leung@scmp.com
a group of police officers riding on the back of a motorcycle: A Hong Kong riot police officer points a gun that fires rubber bullets at an anti-government protest in October. Photo: Reuters A Hong Kong riot police officer points a gun that fires rubber bullets at an anti-government protest in October. Photo: Reuters

The end of American training programmes with Hong Kong police officers is a "non-issue", senior sources with the force have said, noting the United States is far from the city's sole partner and that similar exchanges will continue with countries including Singapore, the Netherlands and France.

The same holds true even if the four other countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance " Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand " were to follow suit, the sources added, as the benefits and harms of ending such programmes were mutual.

a group of people wearing military uniforms: Hong Kong riot police fire tear gas near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay during an anti-government protest in May 2020. Photo: Sam Tsang © Provided by South China Morning Post Hong Kong riot police fire tear gas near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay during an anti-government protest in May 2020. Photo: Sam Tsang

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The Hong Kong Autonomy Act and an executive order signed by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, a tit-for-tat response to the enactment of the city's sweeping new national security law, brings to an end years of training for members of the police force and other local security services at the Department of State's International Law Enforcement Academy.

In an email on Thursday night, a Hong Kong Police Force spokesman said the force had sent a total of 1,489 officers to attend development training on the mainland over the past five financial years and just 604 overseas, noting it had been nearly a year since any had been sent to the US.

"Since September 2019, the force had not sent any officers to attend courses held by the International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs) in the States due to the global complex situation, and the force has no intention to enrol officers in courses provided by ILEAs for the rest of 2020," the spokesman said.

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One of the senior sources, who previously attended a one-month, US-funded cultural programme and was attached to the Australian police force, said this week's move "did not hurt at all", as officers were there to mutually exchange knowledge, rather than receive crucial training.

Asked about the possibility of the other Five Eyes countries following the US' cue, he said: "Literally, those are four destinations out of 195 countries in the world. The world is big. Why would it be a big deal? We have a lot of options."

According to document obtained from the Hong Kong Police College, selected officers with ranks of senior superintendent or above have had the option of attending overseas courses at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, the Institut Europeen d'Administration des Affaires in France, the Royal College of Defence Studies in Britain, as well as Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the US.

It is a non-issue. The world does not spin around the States. It is hilarious to think the ban would hurt us. The country is not a sole partner.
A senior police source

But none of the training involved is indispensable to their job functions, the source said.

"It is a non-issue. The world does not spin around the States. It is hilarious to think the ban would hurt us. The country is not a sole partner. We have exchange programmes with many other places like Singapore, the Netherlands, Australia and mainland China," he said.

"None of these places train us to become police. It is a mutual knowledge exchange and allows our officers to broaden their horizons. They learn from us, too. So, the US will suffer from its ban."

He said the course he attended in the US focused on American culture and learning how its government worked. During his visit, he was given a tour of the White House, taken to American football games, and stayed with a local family.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act along with an executive order, effectively stripping Hong Kong of its privileged status and paving the way for sanctions on local and mainland officials. Photo: Bloomberg © Provided by South China Morning Post US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act along with an executive order, effectively stripping Hong Kong of its privileged status and paving the way for sanctions on local and mainland officials. Photo: Bloomberg

The insider said such programmes served as a platform to allow global law enforcers to gather and exchange ideas. "Any other countries could serve the same purpose," he said.

In a statement issued in the wee hours of Thursday, the Security Bureau slammed the move as baldly political while also downplaying its pragmatic effects.

"The Hong Kong law enforcement agencies have maintained extensive collaboration with training partners worldwide. We are strongly against the move of stopping normal training activities due to political factors," the statement read, adding that suitable training and exchange opportunities would continue to be arranged for officers.

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The Police College document noted that officers could attend exchange courses with police counterparts in Singapore, the Netherlands and Britain. The People's Public Security University of China, Beijing People's Police College and Shanghai Public Security College also arrange regular courses for Hong Kong police.

According to a 2018 police force newsletter, 23 officers were sent abroad during October and November 2017 to broaden their horizons. Among them, two attended a one-month senior executive fellows programme at the John F Kennedy School of Government; a 12-member delegation visited the Devon and Cornwall police in England; and one took part in a Singapore police course.

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Hong Kong's police chief, Chris Tang Ping-keung, has personally received training at various mainland and overseas institutions, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy in the US, the China Executive Leadership Academy, Chinese People's Public Security University, the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Deputy police commissioner Edwina Lau Chi-wai, recently tapped to head the unit that will enforce the national security law, has attended development courses at Harvard, Beijing University, the Australian Institute of Police Management and the Chinese Academy of Governance.

Current director of operations Frank Kwok Yam-yung, who formerly commanded the elite Special Tactical Unit, commonly known as the "Flying Tigers", also received training at law enforcement and military organisations abroad, including the Australian Special Air Service, the Australian Federal Police and the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies.

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But another insider, who had been to New York, Singapore and Australia for investigation and counterterrorism courses, said that just as overseas law enforcers have come to Hong Kong to hold training seminars, his men have travelled to teach police in other countries.

He recalled a one-week training seminar held by FBI investigators in Hong Kong where the Americans shared their financial investigation and analysis techniques as well as surveillance methods. While it was "nice to know" the information, he said, not being able to repeat such seminars represented no great loss.

"The enforcement system and authorities of Hong Kong police and the United States' are completely different. We can't copy their models," he said. "Also, when they were in Hong Kong, they learned from our skills as well. Everything is mutual."

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