HK’s new customs chief to focus on national security threats

25-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong customs will make seizing materials that could threaten national security a priority, the first woman to head the department has said, calling her 8,000 officers the city’s first line of defence.

Taking up the role on Thursday, Louise Ho Pui-shan also said customs would tackle cross-border smuggling by hunting down the warehouses along the coast where criminals stored illegal goods and track whether they began to use other vessels besides their favoured high-powered speedboats.

The State Council appointed Ho, 53, as commissioner of the Customs and Excise Department on the recommendation of the chief executive, making her the first woman to rise through the ranks to the top of one of the city’s six disciplined services. She now also sits on the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, chaired by Hong Kong’s leader, tasked with overseeing efforts to combat crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

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Ho revealed that seizures of firearms, ammunition and strategic commodities such as respirators at control points had dropped sharply following the imposition of the national security law by Beijing last year. But the risk of domestic terrorism remained and criminals could have ulterior motives to undermine the Hong Kong’s security, she warned.

“They may resort to soft resistance and use propaganda materials such as books, magazines and daily necessaries to spread messages endangering the safety of national security,” she said.

“We proactively collect intelligence on possible contraband. At this moment, we cannot say any definite product. But we should be alert to the situation, not only firearms, ammunition, weapons and also strategic commodities.”

Given customs was Hong Kong’s first line of defence, officers had to monitor imports for materials that could pose national security risks, she said, adding the new law was part of the induction course for fresh recruits.

The commissioner revealed that customs had established a direct hotline with mainland Chinese authorities to fight cross-border smuggling, and the new line of communication would allow her side to immediately alert the other if criminals fled over the maritime border.

Previously, customs kept a direct line of contact with the China Coast Guard, although it is not known whether the hotline remains active.

Hong Kong authorities have stepped up the battle against maritime smuggling recently, making a string of seizures and arrests over the past weeks. The high-speed chases have proved dangerous and one police officer, Senior Inspector Lam Yuen-yee, was killed last month when a gang’s speed boat outfitted with six powerful outboard engines rammed into her vessel, flipping it over. Her body was recovered two days later in the waters off Yi O Hau on Lantau Island after a massive search-and-rescue operation.

According to the new commissioner, Hong Kong and mainland authorities would focus on seizing the supplies of the gangs by locating their storage houses set up along coastal areas. Officers would also closely monitor whether smugglers turned to fishing boats and cargo vessels to transport their illicit goods.

Ho, who was deputy customs chief and replaced an early retiring Hermes Tang Yi-hoi, also used the occasion to thank the central government and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for their trust.

When asked how she felt about the promotion, Ho said: “I sincerely thank all former commissioners and their management teams because their hard work allowed the department to keep improving. Now, it has become an 8,000-strong law enforcement agency with a variety of functions. Therefore, I will treasure this mission to lead customs.”

Lam noted Ho’s 30 years of service in the department and praised her abilities, saying she “possesses solid management and leadership skills”.

Ho’s husband is the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, a former director of immigration.

Her younger sister Doris Ho Pui-ling heads up the Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, and before her promotion in January was deputy secretary for development (planning and lands) at the Development Bureau.

The first woman to head a Hong Kong disciplinary force was career bureaucrat Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who was parachuted straight to the top of the Immigration Department in 1996.


Category: Hong Kong

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