Hong Kong is marking its first “National Security Education Day” aimed at promoting a sweeping law that Beijing imposed on the semi-autonomous territory last year.
Children as young as three years old were among those learning about the national security law on Thursday, according to the South China Morning Post, while authorities invited people across the city to create “mosaic walls” with messages of support or smiling pictures of themselves at cultural centres and schools.
Hong Kong police meanwhile unveiled a new goose-step march in the mainland Chinese style, replacing British-style foot drills from the time the city was ruled by the United Kingdom until its 1997 handover to China.
Tactical units then held an “anti-terrorism drill” which included officers rappelling from a helicopter to shoot dead pretend armed fighters and a hostage-taker.
The government of Hong Kong said Thursday’s events were aimed at creating a “positive atmosphere of national security” and deepening city residents’ understanding of the national security law as well as the Chinese constitution and the city’s mini-constitution.
The widely-criticised security legislation, introduced in June last year, punishes anything Beijing deems subversion, secession, “terrorism” or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Since the law was imposed, more than 100 people have been arrested on allegations of undermining national security.
In the run-up to the celebrations, stickers and bookmarks reading “Uphold National Security, Safeguard our Home” were delivered to schools and kindergartens, according to media reports.
“We hope to teach kindergarten pupils about the correct understanding of National Security Education Day, for instance, in terms of national identity, we are Chinese people living in Hong Kong,” the head of one kindergarten, Nancy Lam Chui-ling, told the South China Morning Post.
“National security law concepts are indeed difficult to teach to kindergarten kids. That’s why we hope to nurture them at a young age about positive values, so they can distinguish between black and white when they grow up,” she said.
At the Wong Cho Bau Secondary School in the city, students gathered for a flag-raising ceremony.
“As a Chinese person, as Hong Kong people, what we need to do is to be prepared, and exert ourselves, for the country,” head teacher Hui Chun Lung told students.
Hui stressed the “stability” the security law brought to the city, before a two-minute video showing different students expressing support for the legislation was played.
Students then lined up to stick “wish cards” on a mosaic wall.
“Supporting the national security law is not an issue. Support! Support! Support! I hope we can be one with the mainland,” wrote one student.
Several schools also held quizzes and exhibitions on the importance of national security, according to local media.
There were protests, too.
The RTHK broadcaster said four pro-democracy activists staged a march through a central city district, demanding universal suffrage and the rights to free speech and association.
“We cannot let the government dominate what is meant by national security,” protester Chow Hang-tung told reporters. “A nation exists for its people – it doesn’t exist to suppress its people and deprive them of their rights.”
She said Beijing’s crackdown was eroding academic and press freedoms and forcing many Hong Kong people to either migrate or go into exile.
“Everything’s been in decline,” she said, describing the law as a “weapon of mass destruction” for Hong Kong.
Beijing imposed the new law on Hong Kong after anti-government and anti-China protests roiled the territory, with some of the most violent clashes erupting on university campuses. Critics say the legislation curbs rights and freedoms in the former British colony, which was promised a high degree of autonomy on its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Its supporters in China and Hong Kong say the law has restored “order” in the city.
The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over the legislation, as well as measures taken to reduce democratic representation in the city’s institutions.
China has retaliated with sanctions of its own, while Luo Huining, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong said on Thursday that any foreign powers that try to use the city “as a pawn” will face further countermeasures.
“When it is time, actions must be taken in relation to any external or foreign forces that may interfere Hong Kong affairs or attempts to use Hong Kong as a pawn,” he said at the opening ceremony for the National Security Education Day.
“We will propose strong objections and teach them a lesson,” he said.