HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday China would work to ensure a “far-reaching future” for Hong Kong’s autonomy, but he faces a divided city with protesters angered by Beijing’s perceived interference as it marks 20 years of Chinese rule.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and judicial independence unseen in mainland China.
Beijing has promised Hong Kong’s capitalist system will remain unchanged for “at least” 50 years until 2047, but it has not clarified what happens after that.
“Hong Kong has always tugged at my heartstrings,” Mr Xi said on arrival at Hong Kong airport for the handover anniversary in front of flag-waving crowds at the start of a three-day visit.
“We are willing, together with different sectors of Hong Kong society, to look back on Hong Kong’s unusual course in the past 20 years, draw conclusions from the experience, look into the future and to ensure ‘one country, two systems’ is stable and has a far-reaching future.”
Mr Xi’s message was consistent with those of other senior Chinese leaders visiting Hong Kong, that Beijing will safeguard the city’s development and prosperity.
In reality, however, fears of the creeping influence of Communist Party leaders in Beijing have been starkly exposed in recent years by the abduction by mainland agents of some Hong Kong booksellers who specialised in politically sensitive material and Beijing’s efforts in disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city legislature.
Mr Xi did not respond to journalists, including one who asked whether Liu Xiaobo, China’s Nobel Peace Laureate and jailed dissident, would be released and allowed to travel overseas to be treated for cancer.
Speaking later, Mr Xi praised Hong Kong’s outgoing leader, Leung Chun-ying, who cracked down hard on pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, for his substantial contributions to the country, “especially safeguarding national security”.
“These past five years have not been easy at all,” Mr Xi added.
He urged officials to support incoming leader Carrie Lam, who will be sworn in on Saturday, and contribute to the “China dream”.
An annual July 1 protest pressing social causes, including a call for full democracy, is expected to take place after Mr Xi leaves on Saturday.