The Associated Press
HEADLINE: China's Top Cop Says He Sees Cooperation With Triad Gangs
China's top cop on Thursday expressed enthusiasm for working with some notorious Hong Kong "triads" and spoke approvingly of one such gang that mobilized 800 members to protect a Chinese leader traveling abroad.
Although Public Security Minister Tao Siju said China "vehemently" opposed the gangs' criminal activity, the groups remain a major menace to law and order in Hong Kong and his comments could further undermine cooperation between Britain and China over the colony.
The two nations already are locked in a nasty diplomatic dispute over a British proposal for more democracy in Hong Kong before it is handed back to China in 1997. Beijing wants to rally as many people as possible to support its position in the dispute and its expanding influence in the colony.
"Regarding such organizations as triads in Hong Kong, as long as these people are patriotic and as long as they are concerned about the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, we should unite because I tend to believe the more people we unite the better," Tao said at a news conference.
Triads originated in the 17th century as secret, patriotic societies struggling to overthrow the last Chinese dynasty, which was headed by Manchu foreigners. The groups later degenerated into underworld organizations.
They permeate Hong Kong society and now operate around the globe, including elsewhere in Asia, the United States and parts of Europe.
Tao said some gangs or their members have renounced previous wrongdoings and should be considered in a new, favorable light.
Hong Kong police, however, say no triad in the colony or elsewhere in the world has renounced crime, although some members have individually. The groups remain deeply involved in extortion, prostitution, alien smuggling and other organized criminal activity, police say.
To illustrate China's willingness to work with supposedly reformed gangs, Tao said "an organization similar to the triads" mobilized 800 members to guard a Chinese leader against "potential danger" while he traveled abroad.
Tao refused to identify the leader, the country in which he was traveling, the organization that offered the security or when it was provided.
But he indicated Chinese police contacts with triads are not unusual, saying authorities "have links with the people and organizations at different strata of society."
It was not the first time Tao spoke favorably of some triads. Last year, he was reported by the Hong Kong media as praising some as "patriotic."
In recent years, Hong Kong triads, as well as Taiwanese criminal groups, have been moving into neighboring southern China, where a remarkable economic boom has led to a marked increase in crime.
Meanwhile, Chinese gangs have been blamed for a spate of armed robberies in Hong Kong and for smuggling cars from the colony to China.
Tao said there had been no rupture in relations between Hong Kong and Chinese police. He said the colony's police commissioner will visit later this month and that China's police liaison officers in Hong Kong continue their work.
Nonetheless, police in Hong Kong have said in the past they worry about increasingly close cooperation between communist Chinese officials and criminal organizations.
Documents seized in a raid of the Sun Yee On, Hong
Kong's biggest triad, indicated the organization was
reserving franchises of video rental stores it planned to open in southern
China for relatives of Chinese officials.