Xi Jinping Defends China’s Vision of Hong Kong on 25th Anniversary of Handover

Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return with a speech Friday that emphasized Beijing’s control of the former British colony under its “one country, two systems” vision, and the criticism that the promised freedoms for the next quarter-century have been countered. largely erased under Chinese rule.

Xi praised the city for overcoming “violent social unrest” — a reference to massive pro-democracy protests in 2019 that were followed by a Beijing-driven crackdown on dissent and shutting down independent media, which made Hong Kong more closely aligned on stricter controls under the ruling China Communist Party.

The shift shocked many in the city of 7.4 million that Britain returned to China in 1997 after running it as a colony for more than a century. As part of the agreement, China agreed to give Hong Kong its own government and legal system for 50 years.

In the following years, Hong Kong activists pushed back on Chinese efforts to curtail freedoms in the city and demanded fully democratic elections, which left hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

Officials and guests attend a flag-raising ceremony on Friday in Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Square, marking the 25th anniversary of the return of the former British colony under Chinese rule. (Magnum Chan/The Associated Press)

For years, the anniversary of the transfer on July 1 was marked by an official ceremony in the morning and a protest march in the afternoon. Now protesters have been silenced in what the Communist Party calls the restoration of stability in the city.

On Friday, Xi said Beijing has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong must respect Chinese leadership, even as Beijing allows regions like Hong Kong and neighboring Macau to maintain their capitalist system and some degree of autonomy.

Xi Jinping Defends China's Vision of Hong Kong on 25th Anniversary of Handover
Xi, center, and his wife, Peng Liyuan, second from left, accompanied by Chief Executive John Lee, left, wave as they exit the West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong on Friday. (Hong Kong Government Information Services/The Associated Press)

“After returning to the motherland, Hong Kong has overcome all kinds of challenges and made steady progress,” Xi said. “Whether it was the international financial crisis, the coronavirus pandemic or violent social unrest, nothing has stopped Hong Kong’s progress.”

‘Push and pull’ between competing visions

His speech was the culmination of what scholar Jeff Wasserstrom has described as a push and pull between two competing visions of one country, two systems.

Many in Hong Kong “fought for a better understanding of the two systems, to have a sense that there is a very different lifestyle,” said Wasserstrom, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink

That view has lost, at least for now, the narrower Communist Party, which is primarily interested in preserving the economic benefits of Hong Kong’s capitalist system, he said.

Hong Kong resident Grace Chan saw little reason to celebrate on Friday.

“It has been very difficult for the people of Hong Kong in recent years,” she said. “I just wanted to relax today and not surround myself in a negative atmosphere for too long.”

Since the 2019 protests, authorities have used a sweeping national security law to arrest dozens of activists, media figures and democracy supporters. They introduced a more patriotic curriculum in schools and revised electoral laws to keep opposition politicians deemed not patriotic enough out of the city’s legislature.

She says the Chinese Communist Party has restored stability in a city ravaged by demonstrations seen as a direct challenge to its rule. For Western democracies, Xi has undermined the freedoms and way of life that distinguished the city from mainland China and made it a global financial and trade center.

Adrienne Watson, spokesman for the US National Security Council, said in a statement that China’s policy towards Hong Kong, including its national security law, was “the institutions, rules and systems that underpin international trust in Hong Kong”. shocked.

Steady erosion of rights, says British minister

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We have seen a steady erosion of political and civil rights since the imposition of the National Security Act on June 30, 2020. Authorities have suppressed the opposition, criminalized dissent and expelled anyone who told the truth. can bring power.”

Xi warned there would be no tolerance for foreign interference or traitors meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs. He said that “protecting national sovereignty, security and development interests” is the top priority.

“No one in any country or region in the world will allow foreign countries or even insidious forces and figures to seize power,” he said, adding that only by having patriots running Hong Kong can it guarantee long-term stability .

He said that one country, two systems was still good and had to be “maintained for a long time.”

Xi also stressed the importance of caring for Hong Kong’s youth. Protests in pro-democracy movements in 2014 and 2019 included students disillusioned with the loss of promised political freedoms and an increasingly competitive job market and rising housing costs.

“It is necessary to help the majority of young people to solve the problems they face in their studies, employment and in entrepreneurship and property ownership,” said the Chinese leader. “More opportunities need to be created for them to grow and become talents.”

Xi’s trip to Hong Kong was his first outside mainland China since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in January 2020. He had last visited Hong Kong in 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the transfer.

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