Police Minister Ginny Andersen makes expectations clear after Hong Kong police visit NZ, speak with Kiwi cops about 'combatting riots'

The Police Minister has laid out her expectation that police actions reflect "New Zealand's position on foreign affairs" after it emerged that police met with Hong Kong's force and discussed experiences with riots and civil unrest.

The revelation has sparked some concern given the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) has been accused of using excessive force - in some cases allegedly amounting to torture - against protesters.

During the 2019 and 2020 protests in Hong Kong against a new extradition law, members of the police force were regularly criticised for their hostile response.

New Zealand has also previously expressed concern about "the steady erosion of rights, freedoms, and autonomy" in Hong Kong following a national security law being introduced there.

In a statement to Newshub, Police Minister Ginny Andersen said she had a "general expectation that Police conduct themselves in a manner that reflects New Zealand’s position on foreign affairs".

"That includes the concern our Government has raised about the continued erosion of rights, freedom and autonomy in Hong Kong," she said.

"Police in New Zealand operate on the principle of policing by consent, and I expect to see Police putting that front and centre in their interactions with international partners."

An article on the HKPF's news site says a ten-person delegation travelled to New Zealand for four days in February, led by Senior Superintendent Kwan King-pan. Among the places visited was the NZ Police headquarters, Wellington Central Police Station and the Royal NZ Police College.

"Representatives from both sides exchanged comments regarding the policing development and the challenges ahead," the news site said.

"NZP also hosted several seminars to outline their policing strategies on domestic violence, road safety, criminal investigation and public relations. The delegation, in return, introduced the contribution of HKPF over the past three years in combatting riots and the pandemic."

The visit has been confirmed by the New Zealand Police, which told Newshub the HKPF is a "long standing partner" and the meeting was enabled under a cooperation agreement the two forces have on combatting crime.

"HKPF’s staff who visited NZP represented current and developing leaders at the operational level with an interest in learning how innovation improves frontline policing effectiveness and efficiency, as well as the associated deployment strategies used by NZP," a spokesperson said.

"During the visit, the HKPF delegation delivered a short presentation in relation to their experiences and learnings in responding to domestic civil unrest. 

"In response, NZP took the opportunity to give an overview of our recent experiences. This included discussing our policing responses, which are delivered in a manner that focusses on maintaining community trust and confidence in Police."

Police Minister Ginny Andersen.
Police Minister Ginny Andersen. Photo credit: AM.

Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party's foreign affairs and police spokesperson, told Newshub it is "extremely concerning" for the New Zealand police to be cooperating with a force which she said has been condemned for violent actions. 

"It really reveals a very low standard for New Zealand Police in terms of when they assess their collaborations," she said.

The MP said it could show "a level of ignorance" by the police about who it collaborates with.

"But at worst, it's potentially that New Zealand police don't share the same values as the rest of us in terms of what constitutes good policing, because excessive force or systemic violence is absolutely not it."

An investigation by human rights group Amnesty International in 2019 alleged an "alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics, including while arresting people at protests". It alleged examples of torture and ill-treatment in detention.

"The evidence leaves little room for doubt – in an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests," Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's East Asia Director said the time.

"This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.” 

Clashes between police and protesters during the 2019 and 2020 protests were frequent. There are numerous reports of police firing tear gas water cannons and rubber bullets at protesters, sometimes in response to demonstrators' actions, but also without cause, including at journalists.

A Hong Kong police watchdog released a report in 2020 about police actions during the protests largely dismissed complaints, saying police actions were justified "in reaction to illegal action by protesters and for protection of themselves and others when attacked by violent protesters".

But that report was condemned by some as a whitewash, including the Hong Kong Watch group which said it "shows that there is no viable mechanism in Hong Kong to ensure accountability either for police brutality or police complicity with violence by criminal thugs".

The New Zealand Government expressed concern in 2020 at arrests stemming out of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and would later suspend an extradition treaty with Hong Kong due to China's decision to pass a national security law for the city.

"New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China," then-Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said.

Last July, two years on from the national security law being introduced, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta reiterated New Zealand's concern about "the steady erosion of rights, freedoms, and autonomy that has occurred in Hong Kong as a result".

Ghahraman said it goes "beyond being hypocritical" for New Zealand to then cooperate with the Hong Kong police.

She said it was something Police Minister Ginny Andersen should be involved in.

"This isn't an operational issue. It is at its core a high-level policy issue. Whether or not we collaborate with an international police force or any kind of institution is a policy setting. 

"The minister should be asking New Zealand police how this happened, what their systems are in place in terms of preventing this kind of things from happening in the future and getting involved to ensure that we can rely on our police force not to be helping atrocity-committing police."