HONG KONG ( Associated Press) – China’s leader Xi Jinping marked the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s withdrawal with a speech on Friday on Beijing’s control of the former British colony as part of its vision of “one country, two systems”. The emphasis was on – countering criticism that political and civil liberties promised for the next quarter century have been largely wiped out under Chinese rule.
Xi praised the city for overcoming “violent social unrest” – a reference to the massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, followed by a Beijing-driven crackdown that quelled dissent and shut down independent media. done, aligning Hong Kong more closely with tighter controls. under the ruling Communist Party of China.
Read more: China accuses US of trying to ‘hijack’ support in Asia
The change shocked many in the city of 7.4 million people that Britain returned to China in 1997 after running as a colony for more than a century. As part of the agreement, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep its own government and legal system for 50 years.
In the ensuing years, Hong Kong activists pushed against Chinese efforts to curtail freedoms and even called for fully democratic elections, taking out hundreds of thousands of people to march in the streets.
Under Xi’s leadership, that pushback has been silenced. For years, the anniversary of the July 1 handover was marked by an official ceremony in the morning and a protest march in the afternoon. Now, the protesters have been silenced in praise of the Communist Party as restoring stability to the city.
Xi said Beijing has “extensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and Hong Kong should respect the Chinese leadership, even as Beijing allows areas such as Hong Kong and neighboring Macao to maintain its capitalist system and degree of autonomy. allows.
“After returning to the homeland, Hong Kong has faced all kinds of challenges and continued to move forward,” Xi said. “Whether it is the international financial crisis, the coronavirus pandemic or violent social unrest, nothing has stopped Hong Kong’s progress.”
Read more: Police crackdown on Tiananmen checkpoints in Hong Kong
His speech represented the culmination of what Chinese scholar Jeff Wasserström described as a push and pull between two competing visions of “one country, two systems”.
Many in Hong Kong “fight for a more robust understanding of the two systems, to consider that there is a very different lifestyle,” said Wasserström, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “Vigil: Hong Kong”. . on the verge.”
That approach, at least for now, has been defeated by the narrow one of the Communist Party, which is primarily interested in maintaining the economic benefits of Hong Kong’s capitalist system, he said.
Hong Kong resident Grace Chan saw no 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 with a negative environment for too long.”
Read more: US Defense Secretary Austin says China’s military activity near Taiwan threatens region
Since the 2019 protests, authorities have used sweeping national security legislation to arrest several activists, media figures and democracy supporters. He introduced a more patriotic curriculum in schools and reformed election laws to keep opposition politicians out of the city’s legislature who are not considered patriotic.
In its view, the Communist Party of China has restored stability to a city that was torn apart by demonstrations seen as a direct challenge to its rule. For Western democracies, Xi has undermined the freedoms and way of life that separated the city from mainland China and made it a global finance and trade center.
US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement that China’s policies towards Hong Kong, including national security legislation, “shaken the institutions, rules and systems that were the basis of international trust in Hong Kong.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “We have seen a steady erosion of political and civil rights since the National Security Act came into force on June 30, 2020. Officials have suppressed the opposition, criminalized dissent and removed power. Anyone telling the truth has been thrown out.”
Xi warned that foreign interference or interference by traitors would not be tolerated in Hong Kong’s affairs. He said that “protecting national sovereignty, security and development interests” is the top priority.
“No country or region in the world will allow any foreign countries or even seditious forces and figures to seize power,” he said, adding that only by being a patriot ruling Hong Kong it would Can ensure long term stability.
He added that “one country, two systems” is still a good system that “should be maintained for a long time.”
Read more: Biden aims to increase US influence in Asia to counter China, North Korea
In the remote village of Tai O, where houses are built on stilts, fisherman Ng Koon-yo is right in charge of Beijing.
“Hong Kong is part of China, and I have never thought of going anywhere else,” said Ng, who came from China’s neighboring Guangdong province in the 1950s. “I hope China will make Hong Kong a better place, where everyone can prosper.”
Xi also stressed the importance of caring for Hong Kong’s youth. There were many protesting students in pro-democracy movements in 2014 and 2019, many disillusioned not only by the loss of promised political freedoms, but also by an increasingly competitive job market and rising housing costs.
“It is necessary to help most of the youth in solving the difficulties faced by them in their studies, employment and entrepreneurship and property ownership,” he said. “There should be more opportunities for them to grow and become talents.”
Xi’s first visit to Hong Kong was outside mainland China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. He last visited Hong Kong in 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the handover.
Thousands of guests were required to take daily coronavirus tests and check into quarantine hotels before attending events with Xi.
Xi attended the swearing-in ceremony of Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, a former security chief who oversaw the crackdown on dissent.
“The next five years will be an important time for Hong Kong to move from governance to prosperity,” Lee said.
He has previously indicated plans to comply with a long unfulfilled requirement for the city to enact its own laws to protect the Chinese government against acts that endanger national security. An earlier initiative was abandoned in 2003 after major protests.
Amnesty International warned that Li’s plans for laws governing state secrets and cybersecurity would mirror similar laws in China.
“The extremely broad definition of such laws facilitates arbitrary enforcement, a fact that creates further uncertainty and fear for people in Hong Kong,” said Erwin van der Borgat, the group’s Asia-Pacific regional director.
One morning at the flag hoisting ceremony – attended by Lee and his predecessor Carrie Lam, but not Xi – police officers carrying Chinese and Hong Kong flags marched in a Chinese “goose-stepping” style to Golden Bauhinia Square, a British Instead of the march of style . The guests stood attentively as the Chinese national anthem was played.
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and news assistant Carmen Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.