In a rare visit to the Chinese territory amid a rising authoritarian crackdown, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed on Friday that Hong Kong cannot afford to be destabilised while preserving the ‘one country, two systems’ structure of government. The Chinese leader said that Hong Kong’s ‘real democracy’ began 25 years ago, when the city was handed over to China from colonial Britain.
‘After reunification with the motherland, Hong Kong’s people became rulers of their own city, ‘Xi added. ‘True democracy in Hong Kong began here.’ Xi is in Hong Kong for the inauguration of his selected leader, John Lee, a former security official who supervised the police response to anti-government protests in 2019. This is his first known excursion beyond the mainland in more than two years, during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Xi emphasised that Hong Kong must be controlled by ‘patriots,’ while simultaneously maintaining its unique status and strengths as an international financial, maritime, and aviation hub. ‘After all the storms, everyone has painfully learnt that Hong Kong cannot afford turmoil and cannot afford to descend into anarchy,’ Xi remarked. ‘ It must eliminate all disruptions and concentrate on development.’ Xi stated that there was no need to revise the ‘one nation, two systems’ policy, which granted Hong Kong significant autonomy following the 1997 handover. Friday marks the half-way point in the 50-year governance model agreed upon by Britain and China, under which Hong Kong would retain autonomy and core freedoms.
Since Xi’s previous visit in 2017, when he cautioned against any threat to Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong has seen seismic transformation. Months of pro-democracy protests erupted in the city two years later, with some protestors advocating for Hong Kong independence. Beijing responded by enacting the national security law, citing the need to restore order as justification. Nearly 200 individuals have been imprisoned since then on suspicion of subversion, secession, terrorism, or coordination with foreign forces, including journalists and several of Hong Kong’s most famous pro-democracy figures.
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