How far Hong Kong is going to protect Xi Jinping
No stone has been left unturned in preparation for the arrival of the Chinese leader to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover to China
The visit of a state leader, domestic or foreign, involves a great deal of preparation, not least in the area of security.
When a Chinese president visits Hong Kong, the issue becomes even trickier as, strictly speaking, the dignitary is neither domestic nor foreign. Therefore, as well as delivering on the obligatory assurances regarding personal safety, the security arrangements must provide a clear demonstration of the political significance the host city attaches to the visit.
When President Xi Jinping visited the UK in the summer of 2015, there was much talk in the British media of the hefty demands made on the royal household by the visiting Chinese leader and his entourage.
These included a request to have one of Xi’s personal bodyguards travel alongside him and the Queen in their horse-drawn carriage, and another to have the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace remodelled in the interests of security.
When a Chinese president visits a mainland city, the matter is simplified due to the fact that Beijing issues directives on what needs to be done, and the relevant local authority does at it’s told.
In the case of Hong Kong, while the city is part of China, it is administrated separately, so there are some differences with regards to who does what. When former Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the city in 2007, the security detail was handled by the G4 VIP protection unit of the Hong Kong police in what was seen at the time as a clear sign of Beijing’s “full trust” in the Hong Kong administration.
So who will be involved in ensuring Xi’s safety on his first visit to the city since becoming president?
When security gets personal
While Hong Kong police will handle the bulk of the security work, Xi’s closest guards are all members of the mysterious Troop 8341. The Beijing-based military bureau – established by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 shortly before the founding of the People’s Republic – handles all personal security issues for China’s top leaders.
The Central Guard Regiment, as the troop is also known, is actually a division of combat-ready troops led by a major general. The 1994 Hong Kong The Bodyguard from Beijing, starring Jet Li tells the story of a devoted and fearless member of the elite regiment.
In reality, the only publicly available information about Xi’s chief bodyguard – who accompanied the Chinese president and First Lady Peng Liyuan on their recent visit to the United States – is that he has the rank of lieutenant colonel. All other information is classified.
What will be the role of the Hong Kong police?
Aside from the most personal of the security roles, the broader safety arrangements for Xi’s visit will fall to the host city. That means that there will be in the region of 10,000 regular and counterterrorism police officers on the streets of Hong Kong and at key locations every day of the president’s visit.
What other measures will be put in place?
While exact details of the security arrangements for Xi’s visits are never made public, there is a standard protocol for such matters. High-security zones, with patrolled perimeters, will be established at key venues, including the hotel in which he will stay and the places he is scheduled to visit over the three days.
When moving between locations, Xi and Peng will travel in one of two bulletproof limousines owned by Hong Kong police. They will be accompanied by Xi’s personal bodyguards and a full motorcade. It is also possible that snipers will be positioned at key locations, especially when Xi is outdoors, while plainclothes officers will mingle with the public. Roadblocks will also be set up to ensure his swift movement through the city, and all public gatherings that might have hindered his progress have been cancelled or rescheduled.
Prior to the president’s arrival, teams of security officers were tasked with conducting painstaking checks at every venue and location on the tour agenda.
Preparations will also have been made at the city’s hospitals, such as making sure there are sufficient blood supplies.
Learning from experience
President Xi Jinping has made several high-profile visits overseas in recent years, all without incident thanks to the efforts of both the security teams in the host nations and his personal entourage.
Earlier this year, Xi met United States President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida. While there, the hotel in which he was staying was transformed into a high-security zone, while all traffic was banned from roads on which he was travelling.
The Chinese leader was treated to equally high levels of security while visiting the UK in October 2015. Local forces adopted their highest security level, which included the deployment of thousands of police officers across the country. Such intense levels of protection led to the arrest of several pro-Tibet campaigners.
In 2016, Hong Kong deployed 6,000 police on a daily basis to protect Zhang Dejiang, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
The huge numbers were a response to the perceived risk level at the time. Five years earlier, just 2,000 police officers per day were used during a visit to Hong Kong by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.