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As handover looms, Hong Kong police ponder future

Hong Kong police June 18, 1997
Web posted at: 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT)

HONG KONG (CNN) -- The Royal Hong Kong Police is monitoring more than just criminal activity these days. With the historic handover of Hong Kong to China just weeks away, the police force is keeping a close eye on how, or if, its role will change, amid public fears that the force could become an instrument of repression.

Police officials insist the people of Hong Kong have nothing to fear, that their freedoms are not at risk.

"Our instructors tell us the responsibility of the police is to help the public and uphold the law. I am sure our duties will remain the same," said cadet Chow Chee-Kang, who is a member of the last class of cadets to attend the Royal Hong Kong Police training academy.

One of the reasons for the public concern is that the chief executive of post-colonial Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, has introduced laws giving the police significant new powers, including the right to ban demonstrations and restrict freedom of association on the grounds of national security.

graduating cadets of the Royal Hong Kong Police

British police officers will still be allowed to serve after the July 1 handover.

Chief Superintendent Harry Blud of the Royal Hong Kong Police assures that the force's mentality will not change. He said many people are wondering what will happen if a demonstration being policed on the night of the handover lasts until the early hours of July 1.

"If that demonstration carries on into the wee hours of the first of July, is our approach to policing going to change?" he asked. "The answer is no."

Of far greater concern, he said, is the possibility of a rise in post-handover corruption, a problem rampant in China, especially among police.

"One of the major concerns that has been raised to me is the potential for corruption -- not just in the police but in Hong Kong generally -- will increase," he said. "We are acutely aware of that potential."

Police officials insist that after the handover, their force will use its considerable firepower to tackle criminals, not dissidents, while maintaining Hong Kong's liberal social values. The people of this territory can only hope they are right.

Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.

 
Hong Kong Special Section
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