Gruelling foot drills and camouflage uniforms are part of life for some Hong Kongers as military-style youth groups become increasingly popular, despite the fact there is no army to join.
Some follow the traditions of former British colonial forces, while others are newly invented military-flavoured boot camps designed to keep young people in shape.
But as the semi-autonomous city prepares to mark 20 years since it was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, there are concerns that politics is taking over with the formation of secretive new groups.
Speculation is rife about the Hong Kong Army Cadets Association (HKACA), whose members wear green uniforms reminiscent of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Its website describes it as a uniform group that provides training in discipline and Chinese-style foot drills, to “cultivate strong willpower… unity and vigour”.
It was launched in 2015 — a year after huge student-led pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong brought parts of the city to a standstill in an unprecedented challenge to Beijing.
Some observers say the cadets could be a way to get a pro-China message across at a time when younger generations are pushing back, with some campaigning for a split from the mainland.
Political analyst Ma Ngok said the aim was likely “patriotic education”.
“Both local and central authorities would have thought it necessary and urgent to start trying to win young hearts and minds,” he said.
An official attempt to implement a patriotic curriculum in schools failed in 2012 after massive demonstrations by students, parents and teachers concerned it would amount to brainwashing.
The new cadet group’s commander-in-chief is the wife of current Beijing-friendly city leader Leung Chun-ying and some of its honorary patrons include members of the PLA and China’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
The PLA has a garrison in central Hong Kong and is responsible for defending the city, but only recruits mainland Chinese citizens. Hong Kong does not have…