Chinese leader Xi Jinping claimed Friday that “true democracy” began 25 years ago in Hong Kong when China took control, marking a symbolic anniversary for the city transformed by its political crackdown.
“After returning to the motherland, Hong Kong compatriots became masters of their own affairs, Hong Kong people ruled Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and that was the beginning of true democracy in Hong Kong,” Xi said in a keynote address. -speech. to Hong Kong officials on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the handover.
The former British colony is now halfway through its 50-year promise of “a high degree of autonomy” given by Beijing under a framework known as “one country, two systems”.
But critics, including Western governments, have accused Beijing of violating those promises in recent years as it tightened its grip on Hong Kong.
In 2020, a year after anti-government protests rocked Hong Kong, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the once freewheeling city. Two years later, there are no opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature, while nearly all of its leading pro-democracy figures, including activists and politicians, have been either forced into exile or imprisoned – with dozens of them behind bars.
Xi’s two-day visit marked the first time he set foot in the city since he unleashed the sweeping crackdown.
In his speech, Xi struck a triumphant note, declaring that Hong Kong had “put an end to chaos and violence” and was ready to “break new paths and take another leap forward” over the next five years.
He also stressed that Hong Kong should be ruled by “patriots” – those who are loyal to the ruling Communist Party.
“It is a universal rule in the world that political power should be in the hands of patriots. No country or region in the world will allow unpatriotic or even treacherous or treacherous forces and figures to seize power,” Xi said.
At the ceremony, Xi John Lee, a former police officer who became chief of security, swore in as Hong Kong’s new leader to replace outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lee, who became the face of national security law after overseeing the arrests of dozens of activists and raids on newsrooms, explained his vision for a “new chapter for Hong Kong.” He claimed the city is as free and advanced as ever – and promised to continue its development, with a focus on greater integration with mainland China.
Earlier in the morning, Lee and hundreds of Hong Kong officials attended a flag-raising ceremony under dark skies next to the city’s Victoria Harbour, which kicked off the day of the ceremony.
The splendor was largely confined to the Convention and Exhibition Center on the harbor front. On the streets, the mood was much more muted, due to Covid-19 restrictions, a closing typhoon and heightened security.
The police presence was highly visible all Friday morning, as officers in groups of four patrolled walkways, sidewalks and subway stations and exits in the commercial districts of Admiralty and Wan Chai.
“There is really nothing to celebrate. The entire ceremony is closely guarded and the public is not invited anyway, just as (the government) wants ordinary people to stop participating in political discussions,” said Tse, a photo enthusiast in his twenties who came to the waterfront to watch the police vessels and helicopters.
In Hong Kong, July 1 has traditionally been marked by large-scale pro-democracy marches crowding busy main streets. But this year there were no protests. Most pro-democracy groups in the city have been disbanded under the National Security Act. And of the organizations that remain, according to police, none have applied for permits to stage peaceful protests during Xi’s journey.
The few public rallies that took place on Friday were organized by Beijing supporters.
In the city’s Tsim Sha Tsui district, across the water from where the official handover anniversary ceremonies were held, a group of about 30 people gathered to hold up the Chinese national flag and a patriotic banner. .
Martin Chan, who was accompanied by his wife and two children, was among the group that braved the stormy weather to take advantage of the holiday.
Chan said his children witnessed the anti-government protests of 2019 but were too young to understand why they took place.
“What is important is that Hong Kong is now stable and safe,” he said. “We must respect each other, despite all differences, and also respect mainland China.”
For pro-democracy politicians and activists who have fled Hong Kong, the anniversary is a poignant event to watch from a distance.
Former lawmaker Ted Hui, who left the city for Australia while on bail on what he believes to be politically motivated charges, said in a Facebook post Friday that the anger in his heart “had never extinguished”.
“I feel so strongly about Hong Kong as if I’ve never left: I can’t let go of the place I love, and I can’t let go of my comrades in prison,” he wrote.
“Hong Kong currently holds more than 1,000 political prisoners, in addition to a justice system destroyed by the evil national security law, as well as the utter destruction of the free press and democratic society,” Hui said.
Another former lawmaker Nathan Law, who fled to the UK in 2020, said the Hong Kong he once knew had become unrecognizable.
“We exist in strife and among the cracks: we have left to move towards a promised and ideal Hong Kong. Having become estranged, we look back at the city that has kept its glamorous facade, but this ‘new Hong Kong’ has lost its resonances, we still long to go back [to our old Hong Kong]’ the 28-year-old said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the United Kingdom is “doing everything it can” to hold China to its “one country, two systems” commitments in Hong Kong.
“But on the 25th anniversary of the handover, we simply cannot ignore the fact that Beijing has been failing to meet its obligations for quite some time. It is a condition that threatens the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers as well as the continued advancement and prosperity of their home,” Johnson said in a video statement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the “dismantling” of freedoms in Hong Kong.
“This date was planned to mark the halfway point of 50 years of promised autonomy under ‘one country, two systems’. However, it is now clear that the authorities of Hong Kong and Beijing no longer see democratic participation, fundamental freedoms and independent media as part of this vision,” he said.