Xi Jinping Defends Vision of Hong Kong as 25th Anniversary

HONG KONG: China’s leader Xi Jinping celebrated the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return on Friday in a speech highlighting Beijing’s extensive control of the once British colony under his vision of the “one country, two systems” framework – and refuted criticisms that the political and civil liberties promised for the next quarter-century are nearly obliterated under Chinese rule.
Xi praised the city for overcoming “violent social unrest” — a reference to the massive pro-democracy movement of 2019 that was followed by a Beijing-led crackdown that has quelled dissent and shut down independent media, forcing Hong Kong closer is aligned with tighter controls under the ruling Communist Party of China.
Xi warned there would be no tolerance for foreign interference or traitors to meddle 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 the framework that Hong Kong promised its own laws and government for 50 years after Britain’s handover in 1997 was still a good system that “needs to be maintained for a long time.”
But he also said Beijing had “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong should respect Chinese leadership, even if Beijing allows regions like Hong Kong and neighboring Macau to maintain their capitalist system and some degree of autonomy.
“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.”
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. The changes have virtually eliminated dissenting voices and prompted many to leave the city.
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.
US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement that the dismantling of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and pressure on the judiciary, the tightening of control over academic and press freedoms and the dissolution of civil society organizations and news outlets “to preserve fundamental freedoms for global stability.”
She said China’s policies toward Hong Kong, including the implementation of the National Security Law, “shocked the institutions, rules and systems that have been the foundation of international trust in Hong Kong.”
“We call on the PRC to act in accordance with the international commitments it has voluntarily made,” Watson said.
Xi also stressed the importance of caring for Hong Kong’s youth. Many of the protesters in the pro-democracy movements in 2014 and 2019 were students, many of them disillusioned with the loss of promised political freedoms, 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,” he said. “More opportunities need to be created for them to grow and become talents.”
Xi’s two-day trip to Hong Kong is his first outside mainland China since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. He had last visited Hong Kong in 2017 for the handover celebrations.
Security in Hong Kong has been strengthened for his arrival, with designated security and no-fly zones. Thousands of guests were required to take daily coronavirus tests and check into quarantine hotels prior to participating in events with Xi on Thursday and Friday.
Xi also led the swearing in of Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee, a former security official who oversaw the crackdown on dissent. Lee pledged to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and to remain loyal to Hong Kong. He also promised to be accountable to the central government in Beijing.
“The next five years will be a crucial time for Hong Kong to move from governance to prosperity,” Lee said.
He has previously indicated that he plans to include Section 23 in the city’s Basic Law. It involves local legislation to protect the Chinese government from acts that threaten national security, such as treason, secession, sedition, subversion and foreign collusion.
A similar initiative had to be abandoned after mass protests in 2003.
Amnesty International warned that Lee’s plans to enact laws related to state secrets and cybersecurity would likely “reflect similar laws in mainland China”.
“The extremely broad definition of such laws facilitates arbitrary enforcement, a fact that creates even more uncertainty and fear for people in Hong Kong,” Erwin van der Borght, the watchdog’s Asia-Pacific regional director, said in a statement.
At a morning flag ceremony – attended by his predecessor Lee Carrie Lam and other officials, but not Xi — police officers carrying the Chinese and Hong Kong flags marched to Golden Bauhinia Square for the Chinese “goose steps”-style ceremony, replacing a British-style march. Guests stood at attention as the Chinese national anthem was played.

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