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China’s Xi presides over muted Hong Kong handover anniversary

#Chinas #presides #muted #Hong #Kong #handover #anniversary

Chinese leader Xi Jinping was scheduled to lead the tightly choreographed celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain on Friday, with once-annual demonstrations silenced and a massive security presence in place.

Xi’s two-day visit, during which he will also inaugurate Hong Kong’s new government on Friday, is an opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party to demonstrate its power over the city after unleashing a crackdown that has crushed the business hub’s pro-democracy movement.

It is Xi’s first trip from mainland China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and his first to Hong Kong since massive protests swept the city in 2019.

“After the storms, Hong Kong was reborn from the fire and emerged with robust vitality,” Xi said upon arriving by bullet train on Thursday afternoon.

Friday also marks the halfway point in the 50-year governance model agreed by Britain and China, under which the city would retain a degree of autonomy and freedoms known as the One Country Two Systems.

The anniversary used to be a prime example of lived freedoms.

For decades after the handover, every July 1st, parallel to the official celebrations, hundreds of thousands of residents took part in a march to express political and social grievances.

But that march, like all mass gatherings in Hong Kong, has been banned by police for the past two years amid a mix of coronavirus restrictions and a crackdown by security forces.

Critics say the crackdown, reinforced by a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020, has betrayed promises that Hong Kong would keep its way of life after the handover.

“We have made a promise to the territory and its people, and we intend to keep it by doing everything we can to hold China to its commitments,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

In the United States, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson lamented “the dismantling of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions”.

But Xi insisted on Thursday that One Country Two Systems has “great vitality” and would guarantee “long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong.”

– Closed circle –

Xi’s visit is part of a tightly controlled loop.

Those who come into the president’s orbit – from the schoolchildren who met him at the train station to the senior government officials – have been made to limit their social contact, take daily PCR tests and spend days in a quarantine hotel.

Parts of the city were cordoned off and media coverage severely curtailed.

Xi was due to return to Shenzhen in mainland China overnight.

Authorities have also scrambled to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi’s time in the city, with national security police making at least nine arrests in the past week.

More than 10 members and volunteers from the League of Social Democrats (LSD) – one of the few remaining opposition groups in Hong Kong – have been told by police not to protest.

The homes of six LSD members were searched by officers on Wednesday, the group’s president Chan Po-ying said in a statement.

Some of the group said they were being followed and observed.

– ‘Safe, stable’ –

Authorities have attempted to convey an image of public support for the celebrations, with signs heralding a new era of “stability, prosperity, opportunity” ubiquitous across the city.

But the atmosphere was dampened by Typhoon Chaba, which was gathering strength as it approached the city, and widespread road closures for safety reasons.

In the city’s Victoria Park, the football pitches, formerly the gathering point for July 1st visitors, will be used for an exhibition celebrating the anniversary.

The centerpiece is a giant Chinese national flag with a slightly smaller Hong Kong flag, each covering half a football pitch.

Kelvin Lam, a finance professional in his 40s, was disappointed after a quick tour of the brief rainless hours on Thursday morning.

“Is that all you have here? Nothing was removed because of the typhoon?” he asked.

Lam used to take part in the pre-2019 march on July 1, and now he said the city “feels different.”

“After what happened a few years ago, I think safety is the priority now,” said a woman surnamed Xu when asked about the loss of the rallies.

“A safe, stable life is the most important thing for ordinary people.”

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#Chinas #presides #muted #Hong #Kong #handover #anniversary

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