Xi Jinping from China visits Hong Kong for anniversary of transfer

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HONG KONG – On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to travel outside mainland China for the first time since the start of the pandemic to attend the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

For Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who is expected to serve a groundbreaking third term later this year, the proceedings are an opportunity to bolster personal power over the Chinese Communist Party by declaring the nation stronger and more united. has become under his rule.

But for many in Hong Kong, it’s halfway through a 50-year period when the city was given a “high degree of autonomy” under a mechanism known as “one country, two systems,” a time to mourn the erosion of freedoms. and hopes for a more democratic future shattered.

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“After the 2019 and 2020 uprising and protests, the Beijing government wants to show that everything is under control — the opposition and insurgent elements have been wiped out,” said Ho-fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University. “It is a victory round and Xi Jinping will try to portray that he is the one who has achieved this so-called ‘second return’ of Hong Kong.”

Putting down the pro-democracy protests broke Beijing’s relationship with the city’s youth and with many Western governments. But for the Chinese Communist Party, which values ​​its political control and the country’s territorial integrity more than anything else, breaking through decades of inaction and pushing back to pass national security legislation for Hong Kong is a significant achievement.

Chinese scholars have begun to speak of Hong Kong’s “second return”. Zheng Yongnian, an influential political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told state media that the early years of Chinese rule after 1997 were “sovereignty without the power to rule.” But Xi has changed that.

The national security law, Zheng said, was a good start, but only the beginning of the “reconstruction” Hong Kong’s political system must undergo as it “moves from radical democracy to a form of democracy more suited to culture and classes. and social of Hong Kong.” structure.”

The main thing on that agenda for incoming Chief Executive John Lee, the policy chief who oversaw the protest crackdown, will be to comply with Section 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which requires the city to pass laws. to forbid treason, secession, sedition and subversion. Such legislation was suspended in 2003 after mass protests.

But Xi’s ambitions go beyond policing and legal overhauls to sweeping changes in education and society designed to build support for CCP rule.

Accepting a Beijing-designed future is perhaps most difficult among the generation born around the handover, who expected greater democratic freedoms and were introduced into local politics through protests against Beijing’s impositions.

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“When I was young, I didn’t know what universal suffrage was, but later, after witnessing the Umbrella Revolution, I changed my mind,” said Coco Au, 25, a law graduate student, referring to the 2014 protests that targeted were on changes in Hong Kong. Kong’s electoral system that allowed Beijing to pre-screen political candidates.

Many who were born around 1997 feel betrayed. Jeff Yau, 25, grew up feeling the transfer had been a happy event, but has recently come to fear for the city’s future. “I feel a bit suffocated and I feel like Hong Kong is less open than western countries,” he said.

Despite the jubilant tone in Chinese state media ahead of Friday’s ceremonies, there are signs that Xi continues to be concerned about Beijing’s hold on Hong Kong. Local media, citing anonymous government sources, have reported that Xi will not be staying overnight in the city and will instead travel back across the mainland border to Shenzhen after dinner with outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam, returning to home on Friday morning. Hong Kong for the nomination ceremony of Lee, the former police chief who will take her place.

Much of Hong Kong has been shut down to allow the visit to run smoothly. Tall, water-filled barricades line the streets near the exhibition center where the celebrations will be held. The Legislative Council has canceled its weekly meeting to allow lawmakers to quarantine and comply with strict coronavirus restrictions on the ceremonies. Police banned drones throughout Hong Kong during the visit.

At least 10 journalists from local and foreign media were barred from handling proceedings, according to the South China Morning Post. The League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy political organization, said on Tuesday it would not protest on July 1 after the national security police called on its volunteers. “The situation is very difficult, please understand,” the group said in a statement to supporters.

1997 was also a very uncertain time for the older generation of Hong Kong. Claudia Tang, 59, left the city for Australia at the time expecting to emigrate, but later returned. She is now generally optimistic about Hong Kong’s future, despite Beijing’s dominance.

“I think national education is a good thing. A lot of young people don’t understand what ‘one country, two systems’ means,” she said.

That confusion may be partly because China’s statements have shifted over time. Gone are former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s pre-1997 promises that Hong Kong’s horses will still be raced and danced after the handover. Instead, Xi’s views, as stated on the 20th anniversary of the handover, are that “one country” is the deep roots of a system of governance “advanced primarily to achieve and maintain national unity”.

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Creating the ‘one country, two systems’ formula that underpinned the 1997 handover of Hong Kong is regarded as one of the defining achievements of Deng’s leadership. Even today, Chinese state media regularly shows videos of Deng wagging his finger at then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, while declaring that Hong Kong’s sovereignty was not in question.

Many questions about the future of Hong Kong left unanswered by Deng have been resolutely answered by Xi, often imposing on the territory the interpretations of the Chinese Communist Party’s history. Recently, Hong Kong officials revised secondary school textbooks to teach the party that the area was never actually a British colony; it was only ever illegally occupied.

At an event on Monday, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, argued that the UK could have done little in the run-up to 1997 to avoid the recent repressive turn in Hong Kong, “because the real story about Hong Kong today is is about the selection of Xi Jinping as the leader of China.”

At the time, Patten added, the Hong Kong handover was seen as a “canary through the mine shaft” to test whether the Chinese regime would prove brutally selfish or trustworthy in international affairs, but that question has now been answered. “The canary has been stifled as far as they could handle it,” he said.

Even in 1997, Ken Lam, 50, who works in logistics, suspected more repression was coming but was unable to leave and has resigned himself to the fate of the city. “I now have the option to leave, but part of me also wants to stay and see how much worse Hong Kong can get. After all, this is where I grew up,” he said.

Shepherd reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.

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