Beijing is reportedly leveraging its influence at the United Nations as a permanent member of the Security Council to make a pitch for a former Hong Kong police commissioner to head an international body against drug crimes.
Andy Tsang, Beijing’s pick for the top position at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was directly involved in policing Hong Kong’s 2014 mass protests and sit-ins during which tear gas was fired and riot squads were mobilized.
Hong Kong papers reported that Tsang led a delegation to Vienna, where the UNODC is headquartered, for an international seminar in his capacity as a deputy director of Beijing’s National Narcotics Control Commission.
The South China Morning Post quoted a source as saying that Tsang was there canvassing votes as Panama and Colombia had also fielded candidates for the position, but the final selection would be done by Secretary General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York.
He will need to consult with the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, Russia and France.
It is understood that Russia may side with Beijing, but it remains to be seen if the US and its two allies in the Security Council will oppose, given the West’s heightened vigilance to China’s rising global clout.
Tsang, who led Hong Kong’s 35,000-strong police force from 2011 to 2015, impressed Beijing with his unwavering stance to enforce laws and squash unauthorized protests, especially during the 79-day Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement, between September and December 2014.
The mass civil disobedience and sit-ins demanding genuine universal suffrage blocked main thoroughfares in the central business district of the former British colony, but it was business as usual for most trades in the city and there was no casualty nor a single case of a shop being robbed or criminal damage throughout the protracted rally, which saw more than 200,000 protesters flock to the Central and Admiralty districts at its peak.
Hong Kong protesters were well commended for their restraint and civility, but clearly Beijing also gave credit to Tsang for his role.
If Tsang is appointed to the UN body, it would not be seen as good news to those protesters, who were tear-gassed at the turbulent start of Occupy Central on September 28, 2014. Riot police carrying rifles and gas masks were also deployed to disperse people, not too far from the headquarters of the Hong Kong Police Force.
Tsang’s headstrong approach was lambasted by human rights activists, but won applause from pro-Beijing politicians and frontline police officers. He remains unapologetic about his style of policing, though he insisted it was the professional decision by the commander on the scene to fire 87 canisters of tear gas and moblize the riot squad with their guns drawn to prevent more people from joining the crowds. He said he fully supported that decision.
It was reported that he did not leave his office suite at police headquarters during the months-long protest to monitor the situation and coordinate the operations of the various police department and units.
Also, during Tsang’s tenure, Hong Kong’s crime rates dropped to their lowest levels since 1997 – less than 1,000 criminal cases in every 100,000 residents – significantly lower than the corresponding figures in other major international cities like New York, London, Paris and Tokyo.
He also overhauled and reformed the police department’s anti-terrorism units.
Tsang joined the police force in 1978 and while still a constable, he participated in a number of undercover operations posing as a driver and courier for drug syndicates.
This is not the first time Beijing has backed a former Hong Kong official to head a major branch of the UN. Margaret Chan, Hong Kong’s former Director of Health, was elected Director-General of the World Health Organization in 2006. She retired in 2017.
But Beijing stirred up a backlash after it detained Interpol chief Meng Hongwei in 2018, who also served as a deputy public security minister. Beijing accused him of taking graft, but his wife has applied for asylum in France, where Interpol is based.