There is no reason to change Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula of governance, Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a rare visit to the global financial center after being sworn in by the city’s new leader, John Lee.
The United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, with Beijing promising broad autonomy, unlimited individual rights, and an independent judiciary until at least 2047.
Critics of China accuse the authorities of trampling on these freedoms, which are not available on the authoritarian mainland, when Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city in 2020 after massive pro-democracy protests a year earlier.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Thursday that China has not honored its transfer commitments.
China and Hong Kong deny the allegations, saying the law has “restored order from chaos” so the city can thrive.
Mr Xi said the “one country, two systems” formula had been successful under China’s “comprehensive jurisdiction”.
“For such a good system, there is no reason to change it. It should be maintained for a long time,” Xi said.
“After surviving the wind and rain, one can painfully feel that Hong Kong cannot be chaotic, and must not become chaotic again… Hong Kong’s development cannot be delayed again, and any interference must be eliminated.”
Mr Xi added that China would support Hong Kong’s role as an international financial and trade center.
At the swearing-in ceremony on Friday, all officials, including Mr Xi, wore masks and did not shake hands.
Former police officer Lee, who was sanctioned by Washington for his role in implementing the security bill, is taking charge as the city faces an exodus of people and talent amid some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the world.
Authorities deployed massive security forces, blocking roads and airspace around picturesque Victoria Harbor, where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed over Hong Kong back to China in a rain-soaked ceremony in 1997.
Red lanterns, Chinese and Hong Kong flags and posters proclaiming a “new era” of stability adorned neighborhoods across the city.
Mr Xi did not attend the traditional flag-raising ceremonies on Friday as media reported that he had stayed overnight across the border in Shenzhen after arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong is his first since 2017, when he swore in outgoing leader Carrie Lam and stayed in the city for the duration of his trip. This time around, his nighttime whereabouts and reasons why he might have chosen Shenzhen have not been officially confirmed.
On Thursday, more than 2,000 daily cases of COVID-19 were reported in Hong Kong, which would lead to tight restrictions in any mainland city. China is the only one among the major countries determined to eliminate outbreaks at any cost as soon as they occur.
At the swearing-in ceremony, all officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, wore masks and did not shake hands. Source: AAP, AP / Yu Peng
Taiwan says Hong Kong’s freedom is gone
Freedom in Hong Kong has “disappeared” and China has failed to fulfill its promises for 50 years without change, Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang said.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Ms. Su said that promises that life in Hong Kong would continue as normal after the transfer of power had not been kept.
“Only 25 years have passed, and in the past they promised 50 years without changes. “The dancing will go on and the horses are still running” have disappeared, and even freedom and democracy have disappeared,” he said, referring to the Hong Kong expression that life will not change under Chinese rule.
“We also know that we must hold fast to Taiwan’s sovereignty, freedom and democracy,” said Ms. Su.
“China’s so-called ‘one country, two systems’ simply failed the test.”
Australia ‘deeply concerned’ about rights
Australia has criticized China for restricting the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong on the 25th anniversary of the handover of the United Kingdom to China.
“Australia remains deeply concerned about the ongoing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy two years after the National Security Act went into effect,” Foreign Secretary Penny Wong said in a statement.
The Security Law of 2020, enacted after massive protests in 2019, criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
Senator Wong said the law was widely used to arrest or pressure Democrats, opposition groups, the media, labor unions and civil society.
Britain does not give up Hong Kong
Johnson said on Thursday that the UK is “not giving up on Hong Kong” and accused Beijing of not keeping its promises.
“We made a promise to the territory and its people, and we intend to keep it by doing everything we can to get China to live up to its commitment,” Johnson said in a video message posted on Twitter.
“We simply cannot avoid the fact that Beijing has been in default for some time now,” he added.
“This state of affairs threatens both the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers and the continued progress and prosperity of their home.”
US criticizes ‘erosion of autonomy’ in Hong Kong
Mr. Blinken on Thursday expressed Washington’s solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, who are experiencing what he called the “erosion of autonomy” under Chinese rule, and called for the restoration of their personal freedoms.
“It is now clear that the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities no longer see democratic participation, fundamental freedoms and independent media as part of the One Country, Two Systems governance model agreed upon by the UK and China during the 1997 handover. This is stated in Blinken’s statement.
“We stand in solidarity with the people in Hong Kong and support their calls for the restoration of their promised freedoms.”