British army returns to Hong Kong ... but it’s all ceremonial

Hong Kong police bring four UK officers over to get their men and officers from other disciplined services up to speed in pacing, colours and sword drills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 11:15am

Whisper it ... they’re back. Six months before Hong Kong marks 20 years since their departure on a rainswept night at the end of June 1997, the British army has returned to Hong Kong.

Before those who hanker for the old days break out the colonial flags, this is no turning back of the clock. The military intervention comes courtesy of the Hong Kong police.

In a move they would rather have kept quiet, the force have tapped into more than 150 years of pre-handover tradition to inject a bit of spit and polish into the job of restoring a reputation ravaged by recent events in the city.

At the invitation of the police, a four-strong team from the British Army School of Ceremonial arrived from Britain without fanfare earlier this month to conduct two weeks of training at the Hong Kong Police College in Aberdeen.

Watch: British army puts Hong Kong officers through their paces

The move – described as pragmatic by one expert and which may risk ruffling a feather or two at the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison – comes as the force prepares for some of the biggest official celebrations seen in the city since Britain relinquished control almost two decades ago.

In the first visit of its kind since 1997, a captain and a drill sergeant from the Scots Guards, a pipe-sergeant from the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and a drum-major from the Coldstream Guards have been putting police officers and members of other disciplined services through their paces.

Hailed as a “historic visit’’ by Britain’s official Forces TV which is beamed to UK servicemen and women at home and overseas – and who had a camera crew at the college to cover the training – news of it is nowhere to be found on the Hong Kong police website or in any official Hong Kong government publicity.

However, asked about the hush-hush visit, a spokesman for the force said: “A two-week training on ceremonial skills was given by officers from the British Army School of Ceremonial to 50 drill and musketry officers of the Hong Kong Police College as well as seven officers from other disciplined services in Hong Kong this month.

“In order for more officers to benefit from drill training with a view to enhancing their professionalism and standards, the force decided to invite officers from the school to provide ­training this year.

“The Hong Kong Police Force have no plan to invite the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison to give training on ceremonial skills as the drill movements and standards of the force have all along followed the British Army drill standard.”

Watch: British army trains Hong Kong’s ceremonial band

A political scientist at the Chinese University, Professor Ma Ngok, said: “For quite obvious reasons it is understandable that the Hong Kong police should try to keep this training visit as low key as possible.

“They are caught in a difficult position. For decades their training has followed the British model and they have to train officers. But they can’t call in the People’s Liberation Army because I am sure they don’t want to adopt PLA methods.”

Britain’s Forces TV was much more effusive: “They’ve achieved a first in history – 12 police sergeants fluent in pacing, colours, and sword drills passing out from a bespoke training package.

“And it was all made possible by British instructors, who flew more than 6,000 miles to carry out the teaching. The Army’s school of ceremony were invited to help smarten up the Hong Kong police force.”

A report filed to the Forces TV website from the police college in Aberdeen said the force “holds its British-linked traditions dear and that’s why they’ve been so keen to host their UK visitors”, adding that the British military training team had “interacted with hundreds of police officers and recruits passing on their skills to continue a rich ceremonial tradition”.