'Cadets' arrive for Sunday's launch. Photo: Dickson Lee

Update | Hong Kong army cadets ‘drafted in students to boost member numbers’ at secretive inauguration

Controversy is continuing to swell around a secretive, military-style organisation for young Hongkongers, after one of its first "recruits" said he never agreed to join the group.

Controversy is continuing to swell around a secretive, military-style organisation for young Hongkongers, after one of its first “recruits” said he never agreed to join the group, despite being presented as one of its members.

In an interview with an online news outlet, the student said he and others were drafted in just to make Sunday’s inauguration ceremony for the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association look good.

Youth Commission chairman Bunny Chan Chung-bun, who also chairs the association, admitted on Tuesday that of the some 300 people who attended the inauguration ceremony, only a few dozen had signed up for membership. The rest were just attendees, he said.

The association boasts the backing of government leaders, Beijing’s representatives in the city and the local People’s Liberation Army garrison, with Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee, wife of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, as its “commander-in-chief”. The creation of the group and the fact that the few media invited to the launch had close ties to Beijing led to fears from democracy campaigners that it would be a political tool.

The “recruit”, named only as Jackie, said he saw an ad for the event posted on a Facebook page for alumni of a military summer camp organised by the Education Bureau, the PLA and a non-profit group called Concerted Efforts Resource Centre.

People who agreed to take part in the ceremony would get a free PLA uniform, which would be the outfit for the new group, he said. He agreed to go along out of curiosity and was told by staff from Concerted Efforts he was not being recruited to the cadets.

Yet at the ceremony, he and other volunteers were introduced as “members from different columns” of the association.

A Form One pupil of Buddhist Hung Sean Chau Memorial College, Wong Tai Sin, who asked to remain anonymous, said all 120 pupils from his year attended on the understanding they were spectators.

Chan, who is also chairman of the Kwun Tong District Council, told a DBC radio programme on Tuesday that all of the few dozen members were university students and the association had not started recruiting primary or secondary school pupils.

He said that criticism surrounding the association stemmed from a general mistrust among Hongkongers.

“The root is the mistrust among the people. In the light of society’s current situation, I hope a mutual trust can be developed. That’s the most important,” Chan said.

He also said that it is “very normal” for the members to swear on oath that they will “serve the motherland” because “every one of us is Chinese”.

All the members had taken part in the military summer camp for Hong Kong youth, he added.

According to a circular the Education Bureau sent to the heads of all secondary schools, the camp was jointly organised by the bureau, the PLA, and the Concerted Efforts Resource Centre, whose founding president is Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping, wife of the city’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa.

The camp “provides the opportunity for students to experience the daily life of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Forces Hong Kong, to acquire basic military knowledge and skills, and to enhance their knowledge on national defence”, the circular says.

The former chief executive is said to be the association’s honourary president while his wife is said to be an honourary adviser.

Businessman Stephen Tai Tak-fung, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference who is president of Concerted Efforts and a director of the new association, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Wong Yeung-tat, leader of pro-democracy group Civic Passion, announced his group would form a section for people aged 14 to 18 to counter the cadet group, which is open to anyone aged six and above.

Wong believed the cadet group would use military training to indoctrinate young people with Communist Party values. “It will make it easier to accept the sets of values being taught to them,” Wong added. He said an estimated 300 young people took part in the inauguration.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Cadet group 'recruit' says he never joined up