Hong Kong’s intensifying social rifts that pit anti-government protesters against the city’s 40,000-plus policemen have started to prod serving and retired officers and their families to decide they can no longer live safely in the protest-weary city.
A previously little noticed plan that predates the protests, but that came to public attention only this week when it was taken up by police and civil servant associations, involves building in neighboring Guangdong province on the mainland a sizable “Hong Kong town” reserved for police officers and other government employees.
News of the plan comes as Hong Kong police have secured an interim injunction order via the Justice Department from the High Court earlier this week outlawing all gatherings that would cause a nuisance or threat to residents at “disciplined services quarters” and married police officers’ quarters or that would obstruct roads and entrances to those premises.
As protests in Hong Kong stretch into their 19th week, some demonstrators who allege they’ve been collared or beaten up by constables in pitched street battles have taken to venting their anger on the family members of police officers. The many police quarters throughout the city have become lightening rods for vandalism and attacks.
Hong Kong papers on Thursday reported on a development in Zhaoqing, a prefecture-level city in Guangdong roughly 190 kilometers northwest of Hong Kong, where an 80-square-meter condo can be offered to members of the police force at a price as low as HK$600,000 (US$76,500), a fraction of the prevailing prices of similar units back in Hong Kong.
Several police and government employee associations including the Junior Police Officers Association and Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants Association have sent letters to their members to gauge their interest in taking up residence on the mainland. The letters promote a 30 billion yuan, five-million-square-meter estate project near Zhaoqing’s main high-speed railway station to be built by the Guangzhou-based developer Agile Group Holdings, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Financing details so far are vague. The government has a special fund to help constables and senior officers rent or buy properties, but it remains to be seen how those funds can be used across the border to buy new homes.
The development, billed as a “Hong Kong town,” has been underway since 2018 with several former senior government officials acting as coordinators, according to HK01 and the Ming Pao Daily.
It is said that homes will be built to the Hong Kong standard to replicate the vibes and living environment of the city, with purpose-built amenity facilities catering to the needs of residents and tenants. The first phase is slated to be finished by the end of next year.
Other than the deep discounts in prices and a Hong Kong-themed master design, another drawing card is hassle-free transportation connections via the existing 350km/h Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link and a cobweb of feeder lines.
All serving and retired policemen and civil servants are said to be eligible to buy homes there, with some strings attached, including resale restrictions.
Not welcome elsewhere
The backdrop is that police officers and their families are joining numerous other Hongkongers who seek a way out of the city’s political and social impasse, with some members of the top brass of the force already talking of pulling up stakes and emigrating elsewhere.
They include John Tse, a chief superintendent overseeing the Police Public Relations Branch who acted as a police spokesperson at daily press conferences defending the force’s controversial handling of the protests. It has been reported that Tse’s wife holds a US green card and that the family has been filing applications to emigrate to the US over the past few months.
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong said he had lodged a complaint with some US congressmen in a bid to block Tse’s application.
The US House of Representatives’ unanimous passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act also may spell trouble for some of those contemplating a life in the US after retirement, as the bill, expected to pass the Senate floor in due course, contains a clause to sanction officials who strangle freedom and liberty in Hong Kong – by freezing their assets parked in the US and denying visas.
Taiwan is considering a similar travel and emigration ban against some Hong Kong policemen and officials.
There have also been reports that Malaysia has also rejected applications by some police officers applying under its “My Second Home” scheme.