“After his return to his homeland, Hong Kong compatriots became the masters of their own affairs, Hong Kongers ruled Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and this was the beginning of a genuine democracy in Hong Kong,” Xi said in the keynote speech. to Hong Kong officials to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the handover.
The former British colony is now halfway through the 50-year promise of “a high degree of autonomy” made by Beijing in what is known as “one country, two systems.”
But critics, including Western governments, accuse Beijing of breaking those promises in recent years as it tightened its grip on Hong Kong.
In his speech, Xi spoke in a triumphant tone, saying that Hong Kong has “put an end to chaos and violence” and is ready to “open new horizons and make a new leap forward” in the next five years.
He also stressed that Hong Kong should be run by “patriots”, namely 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 swore in John Lee, a former police officer turned security chief, as Hong Kong’s new leader, replacing outgoing CEO Carrie Lam.
Lee, who became the face of the national security law after leading arrests of dozens of activists and raids on the newsroom, laid out his vision for “a new chapter for Hong Kong.” He stated that the city is as free and developed as ever and vowed to continue its development, with a focus on greater integration with mainland China.
Subdued mood in the streets
Earlier in the morning, Lee and hundreds of Hong Kong officials attended a flag-raising ceremony during dark skies near the city’s Victoria Harbor, which kicked off a day of ceremonies.
The pomp and pomp was largely limited to the exhibition and convention center on the harbour. On the streets, the mood was much more subdued due to Covid-19 restrictions, an approaching typhoon and heightened security measures.
The police presence was clearly visible on Friday morning as police teams of four patrolled footbridges, sidewalks and subway stations, as well as exits from the Admiralty and Wan Chai shopping districts.
“There really is nothing to celebrate. The whole ceremony is heavily guarded and the public is not invited anyway, just like (the government) doesn’t want ordinary people to be more involved in political discussions,” said Tse, a photography enthusiast in his 20s who took to the waterfront. to look at police ships and helicopters.
In Hong Kong, July 1 has traditionally been marked by large-scale pro-democracy marches that filled its busy main streets. But there were no protests this year. Most of the city’s pro-democracy groups were disbanded in accordance with the National Security Act. None of the remaining organizations applied for permission to hold peaceful protests during Xi’s trip, according to police.
Several public gatherings on Friday were organized by Beijing supporters.
In the city’s Tsim Sha Tsui area, directly across from where the official handover ceremony took place, a group of about 30 people gathered to raise the Chinese national flag and 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 survived the 2019 anti-government protests but were too young to understand why they happened.
“The important thing is that Hong Kong is now stable and secure,” he said. “We must respect each other despite any differences, and also respect mainland China.”
Broken heart and criticism
For pro-democracy politicians and activists who have fled Hong Kong, the anniversary is an important event worth watching from afar.
Former MP Ted Hui, who left the city for Australia while on bail on charges he says are politically motivated, said in a Facebook post on Friday that the anger in his heart “never faded.”
“I feel so strongly about Hong Kong as if I never left: I can’t let go of my favorite place and I can’t let go of my fellow prisoners,” he wrote.
“Currently, there are more than 1,000 political prisoners in Hong Kong, in addition to the justice system destroyed by the malicious national security law, as well as the complete destruction of the free press and democratic society,” Hui said.
Another former MP, Nathan Lowe, who fled to the United Kingdom in 2020, said the Hong Kong he once knew had become unrecognizable.
“We exist in struggle and between cracks: we left to move towards the promised and ideal Hong Kong. Moving away, we look back at the city, which has retained its glamorous facade, but this “new Hong Kong” has lost its resonances. we still strive to return [to our old Hong Kong],” the 28-year-old wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the United Kingdom is doing “everything possible” to force China to live up to its “one country, two systems” commitments in Hong Kong.
“But on the 25th anniversary of the handover, we simply cannot avoid the fact that Beijing has been in default for some time now. This state of affairs threatens both the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers and the continued progress and prosperity of their home,” Johnson said in a video message.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken criticized the “dismantling” of freedoms in Hong Kong.
“This date was scheduled as the middle of 50 years of promised autonomy under the concept of “one country, two systems”. However, it is now clear that the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing are no longer considering democratic participation, fundamental freedoms and independent media. as part of that vision,” he said.
Additional CNN Charlie Fong reporting.