kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 February, 2007, 12:00am

Before his recent retirement, former commissioner of police Dick Lee Ming-kwai reflected on the law-and-order challenges facing the city. One of these was international terrorism.

'Police have to be ready to cope with anything,' he said. 'Take international terrorism. People think we are immune. That's not so. We're an international city and there's always the risk. So we're vigilant. We've got contingency plans.'

These may well be needed, says Steve Vickers, president and chief executive officer of International Risk, a leading firm of business risk and security analysts.

His company recently compiled an extensive dossier on current terrorism trends. It is a worrying document. It highlights the risk of Hong Kong importing terrorism.

There are numerous rabid extremist groups in our region, some motivated by religion, others by politics. Among the most vicious are the Abu Sayyaf gangsters in the Philippines.

'They are an hour's flight away from us,' Mr Vickers points out.

He stresses there is no immediate threat to Hong Kong. Don't panic, he says, but be aware.

'The perception is that the risk of an attack in Hong Kong is low,' he adds. 'But the tide of extremism is rising in Southeast Asia.'

The terrorist threat against Hong Kong is not high, the former head of the Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau said.

One chilling aspect of modern terrorism is how politically-inspired groups enthusiastically take to crime; drug dealing, extortion, blackmail and kidnapping are engaged in to raise funds.

The International Risk assessment says there is little threat of terrorism in China. But Japan, Mr Vickers says, is 'wide open' to internal terrorism because of the thousands of ethnic Koreans, many of them sympathetic to the North, who are an invisible minority.

Hong Kong could unknowingly import a terrorist incident simply because we are close to 'hot' zones.

'It's a low risk but we would be silly to ignore it,' he said.

'We go about life with great confidence and our city is as safe as any in the world. But don't assume that there could not be a terrorist incident in Hong Kong.

'People should not panic but should be alert; once a bomb has gone off, it's too late to take precautions.'

On a corporate level, Mr Vickers urges companies, especially those with regional offices, to have contingency plans. They need adequate building and terrorism insurance, including coverage to secure a sophisticated response if an executive is kidnapped in a third-world location.

What Mr Vickers says makes obvious common sense.

We live in a dangerous world. Thankfully, we have been spared attack by international terrorists. But that doesn't mean we are going to be eternally free from unwelcome attention, he said.

People must realise there are tempting 'soft' targets in Hong Kong. The large American presence could attract the attention of fanatics and so, for that matter, could British firms.

Major companies have for years been quietly taking sensible but low-key precautions. Consular offices set good examples of how to run offices that must be open to the public but also need exemplary security.

We in Hong Kong are fortunate. Our excellent police force is aware of the dangers. Their special duties unit has for a quarter century been actively practising anti-terrorist tactics, a policy well publicised as a deterrent to any potential attackers.

We also have a peaceable, law-abiding population. Terrorists need support from the people where they operate; any foreign fanatics who sought to use terror tactics in Hong Kong would soon be identified. But given the wave of suicide bombers who have wrought bloody carnage in such formerly havens as England, we cannot afford to be complacent.

Police are well aware of the dangers. Senior officers at headquarters in Arsenal Yard have identified potential targets. Naturally they will not speak publicly because that could cause undue worries; the last thing we need is for anyone to list places that could be subject to attack.

But this has to be balanced with a judicious concern for public safety. It's in the best interest of Hong Kong to realise the fact that we could be embroiled in other people's problems; terrorists respect no borders.

The International Risk assessment of the state of terror this year stresses that the global and regional struggle against terrorism is an open-ended effort.

'The past year has seen terrorist groups gain the ascendancy and go on the offensive,' the report states.

While Hong Kong is not a known target, we could be dragged into that conflict. All we can do is be aware of the dangers, stay alert and hope for the best.