On the face of it, the recently launched Hong Kong Army Cadets Association should be uncontroversial. Youth cadet groups, after all, have a long local history. Most countries have something similar; in Britain, the University Officer Training Corps is a valuable public relations exercise for – and potential entry point into – the regular armed forces. When the Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) disbanded, in 1995, the regiment’s Junior Leader Corps (JLC) morphed without problems into the Hong Kong Adventure Corps, which still exists. The group uses government facilities, undertakes adventure training activities, often led by former Volunteers, and its uniform and cap badges retain a distinct “family resemblance” to those of the now-defunct parent regiment. Other local cadet groups are civilianised legacies of the longdeparted British garrison; Air Cadets and Sea Cadets were connected to the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, respectively. But in Hong Kong, where suspicion of the sovereign power has become more pronounced with the passage of time, a new youth group has swiftly assumed sinister undertones. In this sense, the whole Army Cadet Association exercise echoes the local People’s Liberation Army presence; they’re here, but seldom seen and mostly ignored. Likewise, “underground” Communist Party members within the government are assumed to exist by most people, yet are officially denied. But like any poorly hidden – yet patently obvious – “secret”, undiscussed presences and reiterated denials generate more public distrust than either issue would ever do if they were frankly acknowledged. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, on a more innocuous note, have a long local history, and have helped generations of young people develop a spirit of community service. Other groups grew out of 19thcentury “muscular Christianity” youth initiatives orchestrated by missionary bodies, which aimed to instil group thinking, teamwork, collective action and other forms of social uplift considered lacking in China at that time. Youth movements were foreign to traditional Chinese society and only became popular during the Nationalist era. The Communists took them to another level altogether; Red Guards were the appalling end consequence. Hong Kong’s new cadet force would seem as harmless as the Cubs or the Brownies, except for the widespread suspicion that it arose out of the sycophantic second-guessing of Beijing’s wishes by third-tier United Front apparatchiks in response to widespread youth disaffection: the trigger, to a large degree, of the Umbrella movement. The corps’ leadership would appear to comprise roped-in senior officials and professional sitters-upon-committees. Everreliable United Front stalwart and Kwun Tong District Board member Bunny Chan Chung-bun, to cite one such individual, hopped to it when the Army Cadets Association came into being. Like other United Front shoe-shining initiatives (think bussed-in rent-acrowds for counter-demonstrations, or K-pop concerts scheduled to clash with July 1 marches), this one is simply too poorly imagined, last-minute and panic-motivated to garner credibility. Some uniformed youth “members” publicly admitted they hadn’t actually joined; they had attended the inauguration ceremony out of curiosity. If inculcation of a greater sense of loyalty to the Chinese state is the ultimate aim, early indications suggest this will backfire. More likely, the whole exercise will provide yet another opportunity for head-shaking community despair at the sorry parade of lowcalibre sock-puppets allegedly in charge in Hong Kong.