(Hong Kong) Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday hailed Hong Kong’s governance since its handover to Beijing, which he celebrated on the 25the Anniversary celebrating a “true democracy” despite two years of repression.
Updated at 0:22
At a ceremony that included swearing in the new local chief executive officer, Xi was able to highlight the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on the city after the wave of pro-democracy protests that swept the city in 2019 and prompted Beijing to launch a tough political crackdown .
In his speech, Mr Xi assured that Beijing has always acted “for the benefit of Hong Kong”.
“After reunification with the motherland, Hong Kong people became masters of their own city,” he said, affirming that “real democracy” had begun by then.
The visit marks the Chinese president’s first trip outside of mainland China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also the first in Hong Kong since the great pro-democracy movement of 2019.
The head of state did not attend the hoisting of the colors on Friday morning, when in strong winds the next CEO, John Lee, attended the ceremony, which was led by soldiers goose-stepping to the sound of the national anthem.
“A good system”
According to local media, Xi spent the night in the nearby mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, only to return to Hong Kong on Friday morning.
This day also marks the halfway point in 50 years of semi-autonomy, based on the “one country, two systems” principle negotiated between London and Beijing.
Until 2019, the 1ah July was an opportunity to demonstrate the city’s freedoms, with thousands of residents demonstrating on the sidelines of the celebrations to express their political and social demands.
But this parade, like any gathering, has been officially banned by the police for two years for health and safety reasons.
According to government critics, the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 after the 2019 protests has shaken promised freedoms.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday also deplored the “erosion of autonomy” on the territory caused by this law. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised not to “abandon” Hong Kong.
Criticism ignored by Mr Xi, who on Friday hailed the “one country, two systems” principle as “a good system” that “must be sustained over the long term”.
The ceremonies are organized in a closed circuit system for hygienic reasons.
People in Xi’s orbit during his trip, including senior government officials, have been ordered to limit contact, undergo daily PCR tests and spend the days leading up to the visit in a quarantine hotel.
Parts of the city were locked down and many journalists were banned from attending planned events.
Authorities have taken steps to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi Jinping’s stay. The National Security Police arrested at least nine people last week.
A dozen members of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of the last remaining political opposition parties in Hong Kong, have been contacted by police not to demonstrate. LSD leaders told AFP that their homes had been searched.
The city is littered with billboards proclaiming a new era of “stability, prosperity and opportunity.”
At the soccer fields in Victoria Park, which used to host pro-democracy protests, the anniversary will be celebrated with a display culminating in a giant Chinese flag flanked by a smaller Hong Kong flag, each taking up half a floor.
Kelvin Lam, a 40-year-old finance worker who attended the exhibition, told AFP he was taking part in the May 1 demonstrationsah July before 2019, but now the city “feels different”.
“After what happened a few years ago, safety is now a priority,” adds another passerby, Mme Xu asked about the end of the rallies.
“A safe and stable life is the most important thing for ordinary people,” she said.