We're more than just a famous name, say colonial diehards
Colonial British rule may be fading into the pages of Hong Kong history, but for one group of local military enthusiasts, allegiance to the crown remains and is marching in strange tune with former members of the People's Liberation Army.
Boasting a membership of 50, the quasi-military cadet force has named itself after Britain's most prestigious officer training school - the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst - a move that could yet come back to haunt it.
Welcome to the Sandhurst Discipline Training Company (SDTC), where Queen Elizabeth looks down on drill sessions, the Union flag is commonplace and the British crown adorns the uniforms. The SDTC trains its recruits - mostly aged 12 to 20 - in the use of live firearms and air rifles and, bizarrely, in how to handle fake grenades. The police say the organisation is entirely legal.
Set up as a company in December 2001, Sandhurst is a descendant of the former Hong Kong Military Service Corps Cadets.
Kevin Ng, 27, an SDTC captain and training officer, says the company adopted the Sandhurst name so that 'every cadet should be of the same quality as those in Sandhurst'. His father, Danny Ng, founded the group.
A spokesman for the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in England said it was 'looking into' the use of its name.
SDTC cadets pass from basic to advanced training, where they undergo weapons or survival instruction. This involves the use of live firearms, air rifles and fake grenades.
Most of the live-firearms training takes place on the mainland, where gun laws are less rigid than in Hong Kong. Many of the mainland firing ranges used are run by retired PLA soldiers or police and there is no age restriction on who uses them.
Ng confirmed this, but said there was nothing illegal about it. 'All our firearms instructors are qualified gun-range officers and have a firearms-instructor licence issued by the Hong Kong Police [Force] and the National Rifle Association of the UK,' Ng said.
'Any member involved in live-round training, in either the mainland or Hong Kong, will first have to pass basic weapon-handling training with us - only when they pass this can they fire live rounds.'
In Hong Kong, for live-round pistol training the organisation uses the Hong Kong Rifle Association at Kau Wah Keng's shooting range in Lai Chi Kok. Air rifles are also used for basic training to help practise technique.
The air rifles are under 2 joules in power, which means they can be legally fired in Hong Kong. Air-rifle drills are held in rural areas.
'We first get approval from Hong Kong authorities and fire the air rifles in complete safety. There is no danger to the public,' Ng said. He also said the company used dummy grenades to improve the technique of how to prime and throw them.
Police said the organisation was not doing anything illegal under Hong Kong law. But a police source had a word of caution for the SDTC.
'These rifles look like proper rifles. If a member of the public calls us to say that someone is running around with a rifle or has been seen with one in his car, we will have to respond to this. We won't be asking them what joules the rifle is in power when we confront that person.'
Despite the SDTC's affiliations with the British Army, the youth organisation that traditionally originates from the British military's time here is the Hong Kong Adventure Corps (HKAC). It is associated with the former Royal Hong Kong Regiment.
However, Ng believes that the SDTC provides a more realistic equivalent. 'That the HKAC is associated with the Royal Hong Kong Regiment is just a gimmick. Compared with the HKAC, the SDTC does much more intensive military cadet training.
'They don't do proper military training, and just do normal uniform training like the boy scouts. There's no weapons training or survival training. It's just regular foot drills or camp craft,' Ng said.
The HKAC dismissed Ng's accusations, saying that the SDTC was missing the point.
'Ex-servicemen who served in the British Army in Hong Kong started this group, but military organisations here have changed over the years since then,' an HKAC spokesman said. 'We do not force our cadets to go through military-style training. We are not trying to train them to be soldiers. This is the big difference. The SDTC's methods seem very extreme - it's not all about training young people to fight.'
The HKAC confirmed that it only used imitation rifles.
'We try to emphasise that there are more important things to learn and appreciate, like leadership and responsibility,' the spokesman said.