Beach or boot camp? Hundreds of Hong Kong teenagers sign up for PLA training

Youngsters will learn marching drills and basic combat skills during 15 days of intensive discipline

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2017, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 12:27am

Some 460 youngsters got a taste of tough Chinese military life on Monday as they were sworn in to the People’s Liberation Army summer boot camp at the San Wai Barracks in Fanling.

The teenagers will undergo intensive training and get hands-on experience of the soldier’s life over the course of 15 days.

Marching drills and basic combat training will be supplemented by talks on moral education and a lecture on career planning by Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai and Director of Fire Services Li Kin-yat.

The camp run by the PLA Hong Kong Garrison is in its 13th year and more than 3,200 teenagers have taken part. It led to the formation of the Hong Kong Army Cadets ­Association, set up in 2015 with the support of the PLA and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

Controversies have dogged the uniformed youth group, from accusations that it had drafted in youngsters without their consent, to an unusually speedy funding approval by the government.

Zhou Feng, 17, swearing his oath during a heavy downpour, said he was looking forward to the vigorous training. Shrugging off the rain, he said: “This is a test. Soldiers do not retreat because of something trivial.”

He also hoped to improve his time management skills and learn to be disciplined.

Guan Yuyan, 15, hoped to experience the life of a PLA soldier and learn martial arts.

While a recent survey on 1,388 secondary school pupils by Hok Yau Club revealed four out of 10 students wanted no further integration between Hong Kong and mainland China, those signing up for the camp felt otherwise.

Zhou said people should understand that the PLA and the mainland were closely connected to Hong Kong and could not be separated.

Both Zhou and Guan said they did not fear being brainwashed. Zhou said the camp could instead help foster a patriotic mindset.

If you love your country, you’ll realise Hong Kong and China are one family
Zhou Feng, boot camp recruit

Born in Guangzhou, Zhou moved to Hong Kong at the age of two and said he strongly disagreed with the separatist discourse that had gained ground in recent years. He believed anti-mainland sentiment was incited by an extreme minority who “worship America and Europe”.

He added: “If you love your country, you’ll realise Hong Kong and China are one family and cannot be separated.”

A graduate of the camp last year, 16-year-old Xian Ailin said she had grown familiar with China’s military past and developed a Chinese identity.

Referring to the recent military parade to mark 20 years since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, she said: “I felt immensely proud as a Chinese when I witnessed the majestic display of the PLA.”

The deputy commander of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, Liao Zhengrong, said the camp would train students to become disciplined and resilient individuals for the development of Hong Kong.