Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the celebration ceremony for the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China on Friday, July 1, in a city under heavy surveillance.
The ceremony, which includes the swearing in of new local chief executive John Lee, is an opportunity to display the Chinese Communist Party’s stranglehold on the city since the massive 2019 pro-democracy protests that engulfed Hong Kong, prompting Beijing to impose strict political repression.
The Chinese president assured in his speech on Friday that the principle of “one country, two systems” gives a certain degree of autonomy to Hong Kong. This model is “such a good system, there is no reason to change it, and it should be maintained for the long term,” Xi Jinping said, adding that everything Beijing has done is “for the good of Hong Kong. “.
A liberticidal national security law
The principle “one country, two systems” was negotiated between London and Beijing at the time of the return of the former British colony to China in 1997. It devotes a period of fifty years during which Hong Kong must enjoy a certain autonomy and guaranteed freedoms.
“After the reunification with the motherland, the people of Hong Kong have become the masters of their own city,” said the Chinese president, referring to a “true democracy” since the handover.
But the national security law, imposed in 2020 by Beijing after the 2019 protests, has reduced the promised freedoms to nothing. Until then, July 1 was an opportunity to demonstrate the freedoms enjoyed by the city, with thousands of residents marching on the sidelines of the celebrations to express their political and social demands. But this procession, like any gathering, has been banned by the police for two years, officially for health and safety reasons.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday lamented the “erosion of autonomy” caused by this law in the territory. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised not to “give up” Hong Kong.
The visit is the Chinese president’s first trip outside mainland China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ceremonies are organized in a closed circuit system as a sanitary measure. People in the president’s orbit during his trip, including top government officials, have been told to limit contact, undergo daily PCR tests and spend the days leading up to the visit in a quarantine hotel.
Parts of the city have been closed and many journalists have been barred from scheduled events. Authorities have taken steps to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi Jinping’s stay. National Security Police arrested at least nine people last week. A dozen members of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of the last opposition political parties in Hong Kong, were contacted by the police not to demonstrate. LSD leaders told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that their homes had been searched.
The city is plastered with posters proclaiming a new era of “stability, prosperity and opportunity”. The football pitches in Victoria Park, which used to host pro-democracy protests, are hosting an exhibition celebrating the anniversary, culminating in a huge Chinese flag, flanked by a smaller Hong Kong flag, each occupying half a ground.