A week before suspected triad gang members attacked protesters and commuters at a rural Hong Kong train station on Sunday, an official from the Chinese representative office urged residents to drive away any activists.
Li Jiyi (李薊貽), the director of the Central Government Liaison’s local district office, made the appeal at a community banquet for hundreds of villagers in the New Territories.
In a previously unreported recording from the July 11 event, Li addresses the large crowd about the escalating protests that have plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis since it returned to Chinese rule from the British in 1997.
Li chastises the protesters, appealing to the assembled residents to protect their towns in Yuen Long District and to chase anti-government activists away.
“We won’t allow them to come to Yuen Long to cause trouble,” he said, to a burst of applause. “Even though there are a group of protesters trained to throw bricks and iron bars, we still have a group of Yuen Long residents with the persistence and courage to maintain social peace and protect our home.”
Repeatedly, Li spoke of the need for harmony and unity between the traditional villages and the government, “especially when there is wind and rain in Hong Kong.”
The banquet was attended by Hong Kong Government District Officer Enoch Yuen (袁嘉諾) and many of the territory’s rural leaders.
On Sunday, after protesters marched in central Hong Kong and defaced the Chinese Liaison Office, more than 100 men swarmed through Yuen Long train station, attacking black-clad protesters, passersby, journalists and a lawmaker with pipes, clubs and lampstands.
The liaison office did not immediately respond to questions about Li’s speech and Li could not be reached for comment.
Johnny Mak (麥業成), a veteran Democratic Alliance councilor in Yuen Long who witnessed the train station bloodshed, said he believed Li’s remarks had been an explicit call to arms against protesters.
“If he didn’t say this, the violence wouldn’t have happened and the triads wouldn’t have beaten people,” he said in his office close to the train station.
Ching Chan-ming (程振明), head of the Shap Pat Heung rural committee which hosted the banquet, said he thought Li’s speech was positive and held no malicious intent.
“How could he [Li] make such an appeal like that?” Ching said. “I don’t think it was a mobilization call. His main message is that he hopes Hong Kong can remain stable and prosperous.”
Two senior police sources said that some of the men who attacked the protesters had triad backgrounds, including from the powerful Wo Shing Wo, Hong Kong’s oldest triad society, and the 14K, another large, well-known triad.
Police spokespeople did not respond to questions about triad involvement or any aspect of their operation that night.
While Hong Kong’s triads no longer hold the high profile of previous decades, they remain entrenched in some grittier districts and in rural areas, police said.
Police told reporters in 2014 during the so-called “Occupy” democracy protests, that hundreds of triad members were suspected of mounting operations to infiltrate, beat and harass those in the movement. Several dozen people were arrested at the time.
Within hours of Sunday’s violence, police bosses battled criticism they had failed to protect the public given delays getting to the scene.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo (盧偉聰) said that there had been a need to “redeploy manpower from other districts.”
Democratic Party Yuen Long Councilor Zachary Wong (黃偉賢) said Li’s message was having an impact in the days leading up to Sunday’s violence and he had received repeated calls from associates a day earlier saying something was brewing.
Wong said that he called local police on Saturday and then again on Sunday at 7pm when he heard of men gathering in a Yuen Long park.
“Some people called me and said: ‘We’re really scared, please do something,’” Wong said.
Both Mak and Wong said they were told by police they were aware of the situation and were handling it.
Several hours later, when the most violent assaults took place at the train station, there were still no police present to prevent the bloodshed.
“It doesn’t make sense that for many hours there wasn’t a single police car in sight,” Mak said.
Two senior police officers involved in controlling demonstrations and a senior government security official said privately that they were incensed at public perceptions the police somehow acted in concert with triads at Yuen Long.
Public anger over the incident has built in the days since and tens of thousands of people are expected to march through Yuen Long today.
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