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What the pictures in Xi Jinping’s office reveal about his feelings towards Hong Kong

Chinese leader seems to place emphasis on city’s younger generation and acknowledges importance of its police force

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 10:20pm

Is there more than meets the eye to seemingly random photographs displayed in the office of a top official?

If the answer is yes, there can be a special message, then President Xi Jinping’s choice of photos in his Zhongnanhai office makes for interesting reading into.

State broadcaster CCTV did not want to miss that significance when Xi delivered his New Year address – as if worried that viewers might not have paid enough attention, it sent out an explainer through its WeChat social media account, listing out details of the photos seen in the background.

CCTV reminded the audience that besides family photos with his late parents and his wife, Peng Liyuan, the president had some new pictures up, one in particular concerning Hong Kong. It showed a smiling Xi with a group of Hong Kong youngsters in Junior Police Call uniforms, together with then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

That was taken on June 30 last year when Xi visited the youth organisation’s newly completed activity centre in the New Territories. Xi was in town for celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, officiating at the swearing-in of the city’s new leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and her administration.

It was only one of many events he attended, arousing curiosity as to why he would pick this particular photo to be displayed in his office along with others depicting his visits to poor villages, inspections of the People’s Liberation Army, meetings with leaders of other countries attending last May’s international Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, and so on.

The nature of the Junior Police Call is self-explanatory. Set up in 1974, the programme, under the auspices of Hong Kong police, has trained more than 180,000 young leaders for community crime fighting and potential future careers in the force.

How Beijing can help Hong Kong youth gain hope for the future

After the 1997 handover, the youth organisation was known for promoting exchanges between its members and their mainland counterparts as part of their leadership training. Its new centre in Pat Heung that Xi visited was a project Leung endorsed in his 2016 policy address.

Xi was reported to have stayed there, chatting with the youngsters for about 20 minutes longer than scheduled, and urging them “to choose the right road, so as to serve Hong Kong and the motherland”. He also had high praise for local police for their “devotion” to maintaining law and order in the city.

So, if poverty relief, military reform and promoting the Belt and Road Initiative are among Xi’s top priorities for the year ahead, as suggested by the photos in his office, grooming young leaders who love Hong Kong and the country must surely be one of his focal points for the city.

“Where there is a thriving younger generation, there will be a strong nation” – these words of wisdom attributed to renowned Chinese philosopher Liang Qichao of the Qing dynasty have now become a favourite quote for Xi.

Along with his high expectations for the city’s younger generation, there is another subtle message that should not be missed here: the importance he places on Hong Kong’s police force.

And it comes against the backdrop of controversies around frontline policing in the city, with the past week in particular reflecting mounting frustrations within the force over the prosecution of one of its own.

When retired superintendent Frankly Chu was slapped with a three-month prison sentence for hitting a bystander with his baton during the 2014 Occupy protests, resentment among the ranks prompted police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung to send an open letter to his colleagues, urging them to “stay united, remain steadfast in our duties and demonstrate professionalism”.

Agree or not with the court decision, the last thing anyone wants to see is a demoralised police force – and Xi is no exception.