This article seems to be pointing to the use of triads on the part of the Chinese Communist Party in an attempt to control (or provoke, rather) pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. In a case of Morrisettian irony, it was a crackdown on criminal activity by the CCP shortly after the Chinese Revolution that drove the triads into Hong Kong in the first place.
This brings to mind Shaban the Idiot, a disruptive, avowedly anti-political street thug hired by the Shah’s regime to provoke pro-democracy protesters during Operation Ajax in 1953. Or, perhaps, Ghaddafi hiring Tuareg tribesmen, long ignored and marginalized by his own regime, to fight on his behalf during the Arab Spring. Clearly, this sort of political outsourcing is nothing new.
Leaving aside the case of the Tuareg, who (probably) reacted to an uncertain situation by throwing their lot in with the likely winner, it’s unsurprising that street thugs or organized criminals would be opportunistic. That’s sorta their MO. What is surprising is that legitimate regimes would take advantage of criminality. It almost seems as if the monopoly on violence is in this case is being extended to anyone who is politically convenient at that point. And as we’ve been seeing, throwing your support behind the wrong people at the wrong time can end in disaster.