British army-linked cadets active in Hong Kong amid debate over new PLA-backed force
Group that claimed to provide 'military training' still active amid debate over PLA-backed troop
A cadet force with links to the British army – which in 2011 claimed to offer “proper military training" – remains active in Hong Kong amid heated debate over the recent launch of a similar organisation backed by the People’s Liberation Army.
A week after a host of top city officials and PLA top brass attended what has been described as a “secretive” ceremony to inaugurate the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association, new details have emerged of a quasi-military youth group which as recently as 2013 was “inspected” by a defence attache from the British Embassy in Beijing.
The continued existence of the group - which was first publicised by the South China Morning Post in 2011 – looks set to reignite the debate over Sunday’s controversial inauguration of the new cadet force at the PLA’s facility at Stonecutter’s Island.
It comes as the city grapples with identity issues 17 years after China regained sovereignty from Britain in 1997 ending 156 years of colonial rule. Tiny fringe groups advocating “Hong Kong nationalism” who wave the former colonial British flag have been heavily criticised by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying
Attempts to contact those behind the organisation, which was founded in 2001 as the Sandhurst Discipline Training Company (SDTC) by former British army soldier Danny Ng Yau-ming, were unsuccessful. Their website carries no contact numbers, emails went unanswered and at an address linked to the group no one knew them.
However, the group has changed its original name, taken from Britain’s top military training facility, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and is now called the Hong Kong Army Cadets, strikingly similar to that of the newly formed PLA cadet force.
Its website shows undated photographs of its members in British-style uniforms and reveals an organisational structure almost identical to that of Britain’s armed forces.
Ng’s group’s admiration of the British army even extends to inviting the British defence attaché to Beijing, Brigadier Duncan Francis, to inspect cadets in March 2013.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Beijing confirmed the visit and said:
“It is normal practice for defence attachés to accept invitations from cadet forces whether they are non-profit or government-funded organisations.”
In 2011, the Hong Kong police said the British-styled group were legal.
Founder Ng, who claims to have served for 22 years in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps, refers to himself as colonel and wears British-style camouflage on the group’s website.
“As a uniform group in Hong Kong, we are unique in that our founders have been regular British army soldiers from the city,” the group states on its Facebook page, which has 34 members.
The army-style training organisation borrows British army ranks and insignia for its cadets, including the royal family’s coat of arms. Ng was photographed sporting a British Union flag on the sleeve of his uniform at a 2013 event.
“We select appropriate aspects of what the military teaches to give teenagers character, individuality, leadership, good judgment and above all, a sense of commitment to our society,” Ng said in a message on the Hong Kong Army Cadets website.
Youth Commission chairman Bunny Chan Chung-bun, who chairs the newly formed Hong Kong Army Cadets Association, declined to comment on the British-style group.
Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who came out in support of latest uniform group said a British-style cadet force could have “sovereignty implications”.
“There would be sovereignty implications if you established a cadet force swearing allegiance to the British sovereign, wearing British uniforms, there would be sovereignty implications which would be inappropriate,” Ip said, adding that she had not come across Ng’s group.
In an interview with the Post in 2011, Ng’s son Kevin said the group offered training in live firearms, which is held on the mainland.
Kevin Ng signs off as Lieutenant Ng in a message written on the group’s Facebook page.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst said that “Sandhurst has no links to this organisation, or any awareness of its existence.”
The group is not registered as a uniform group with the Home Affairs Bureau under either name and does not appear on the companies registry. However, it is registered under the Societies Ordinance.