Minister who saw patriots in Hong Kong’s ‘mob’: Tao Siju dies in Beijing at 81

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 April, 2016, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 5:21am

Tao Siju, a former public security minister who famously observed in pre-handover Hong Kong that some people in the city’s “mob” were “patriotic”, died in Beijing on Monday. He was 81.

Tao oversaw the nation’s police force as minister of public security from 1990 to 1997.

He was also the top-ranking political commissar of the paramilitary police from 1991 to 1997.

He is perhaps most remembered for his remark during a visit to Hong Kong in 1993 that “the mob is not a monolithic whole, some of them are patriotic and love Hong Kong”.

The remark was seen by many at the time as a message from the central government to the city’s criminal organisations.

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Some critics said it signified an intention on behalf of the Communist Party to work with criminal gangs to stabilise the city before the handover in 1997.

Senior leaders including President Xi Jinping and former president Hu Jintao sent wreaths to Tao’s memorial on Friday.

An official statement on the ministry of public security’s website said Tao had been an “excellent” member of the party and praised him for remaining consistent with its central leadership.

Tao began service in the ministry in 1951.

In 1978, he became secretary to Luo Ruiqing, one of the generals who helped found the People’s Republic of China.

He was made minister of public security one year after Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989.

He was credited with founding the 110 police hotline on the mainland.

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The high-profile commemorations of Tao’s life have been seen as a rebuttal of rumours that Tao was linked to a corruption case featuring a former colleague.

In 2001, the former deputy minister of public security Li Jizhou was sentenced to death on corruption charges.

Li had taken money in return for sheltering smuggling activities by Fujian-based businessman Lai Changxing.

Tao had overseen the paramilitary police during a period when the force was allowed to run business activities to help balance its books.

The practice was adopted in 1985 when Deng Xiaoping, then supreme leader, made massive cuts to defence spending to ­concentrate on economic ­development.

But the practice was brought to an end in 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then president, decided that such business operations were fuelling corruption and disobedience within the force.