China Uses Triads Against Democracy Movement

Organized crime became the new weapon of the Hong Kong authorities on Oct. 3 as they endeavored to disperse the demonstrators still massed in Mongkok in the dense heart of Kowloon.

Dozens of tough looking men waded into the peaceful demonstrators, causing fights and many injuries. Some were arrested by the police but there was no sign of tough tactics against obvious provocateurs.

Police advised the demonstrators to disperse for their own safety, a good way of trying to break up the demonstrations by using the thug incursion as the reason. Meanwhile the government lamely explained that these were probably the actions of citizens frustrated at the disruption to life and business caused by the pro-democracy encampment.

This simply infuriated the demonstrators who, like most Hong Kong people, knew that organized thuggery of this sort is the work of triads, the criminal gangs that are particularly strong in that part of Hong Kong “protecting” the many small businesses and one-woman brothels which operate in its old and crowded streets. When it suits them, the triads are prone to declare themselves be “patriotic” which provides a degree of political protection for their activities.

And so on this occasion the groups shouted “patriotic” slogans and abuse as well as assaulting the demonstrators. The police confirmed that some of those arrested had triad backgrounds.

It is unlikely that the appearance of the groups aiming to create chaos and hence give the demonstrations a bad name, were directly approved by officials. But Beijing has its own channels of communication with the triads which it has used in the past, so the green light for such strong arm tactics would have likely come from the Liaison Office, Beijing’s official representation in Hong Kong.

Senior police officers – who wear white shirts – would understand the message even if their blue-shirted men on the ground in Mongkok were trying to do their job by arresting some of the thugs. So yet again, following the surge of support for the demonstrators, many were appalled by events in Mongkok. Indeed, it had been widely expected that the demonstrations would gradually abate over the weekend. Participants were tiring, repeated thunderstorms and heavy rain were dampening spirits, and some mainstream pro-democracy leaders were suggesting that the demonstrations had made their point and should cease before they threatened to lose public sympathy.

Even the student organizations, Scholarism and the Federation of Students agreed to a meeting with the Chief Secretary for Administration, the number two in the government, Carrie Lam. But it was called off following the concerted attacks in Mongkok and an equivocal statement from Lam. As number two in the government, Lam, a lifelong bureaucrat, is in practice the government’s major spokesperson but carries minimal weight in setting policy compare with either the Liaison Office or the Chief of Police, known to be a believer in hard line tactics.

Demonstrators restored the Mongkok camp that had been partly destroyed in the assaults but they continued to be confronted by the triad organized groups. Anti-Occupy groups also appeared at the biggest demonstration site near the government headquarters in Central Hong Kong.

Wearing blue ribbons and urging “support the police” they were given easy access by the police although at the time of writing there been no significant fighting. The blue-ribbon brigades were mostly middle aged and appeared similar to the stalwarts, often paid, who turn up to the rallies of the Democratic Alliance (DAB) and other deep-pocketed pro-Beijing organizations.

The government’s willingness to see even greater chaos on the streets as a way of trying to marginalize the pro-democracy demonstrators will certainly prolong confrontation and increase resentment of the extent to which a politically bankrupt administration will go to please its masters in Beijing.

C.Y. Leung himself is no stranger to contacts with triads. In 2012 when he was a candidate for selection as chief executive against the then-favored Henry Tang, his campaign manager Fanny Law Chiu-fun attended a big dinner hosted by the Heung Yee Kuk, a feudal body whose writ dominates the New Territories, at which were present several triad-related persons topped by the boss of the Wo Shing Wo. This triad society is the oldest and probably the most powerful in Hong Kong and in particular in the Jordan/Mongkok/Yaumatei area of Kowloon, with mini-buses as well as brothels and small businesses paying for its “protection”:

One former Leung friend known to be friendly with the triad boss is Lew Mon-hung, a CPPCC member until he fell out with Leung and the ICAC promptly hit him with fraud charges. So much for the illusion that the much vaunted ICAC is apolitical. Its head is invariably a bureaucrat and reports directly to the chief executive.

Law herself could hardly have been unaware of the identities of these people, having early been head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption itself. She was removed from that key position following revelations that in her former job and Secretary for Education she had attempted to undermine academic freedom in influencing appointments. She is widely regarded as a key pro-Beijing link between the older senior bureaucracy and Leung. She is never without some sort of official position, currently holding the sinecure of chairman of the HK Science and Technology Parks Corporation, a government entity.

Leung’s assumed Communist Party connections and indirect association with triads partly explains why Hong Kong’s biggest and best-known tycoons had backed Tang for chief executive until his campaign imploded in the face of revelations of illegal building. The major exception was the giant New World property group whose origins lie in gold dealing and other activities in Macau and which now also owns Hsin Chong, a construction company with multiple contracts with official bodies.