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Hong Kong's 'true democracy' started after handover to China: President Xi Jinping

Hong Kong's 'true democracy' started after handover to China: President Xi Jinping

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech following a swearing-in ceremony to inaugurate the city's new leader and government in Hong Kong on July 1, 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. (Photo: AFP/Selim Chtayti)

HONG KONG: President Xi Jinping hailed China's rule over Hong Kong on Friday (Jul 1) as he led the 25th-anniversary celebrations of the city's handover from Britain, saying that democracy was flourishing.

Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on Jul 1, 1997, with Beijing promising wide-ranging autonomy, unfettered individual rights and judicial independence until at least 2047.

"After reuniting with the motherland, Hong Kong's people became the masters of their own city," Xi said. "Hong Kong's true democracy started from here."

Xi also said Beijing has always acted "for the good of Hong Kong", adding that the central government will help to maintain and support a free and open business environment for the territory.

There is no reason to change Hong Kong's One Country, Two Systems style of governance, he said.

"For this kind of good system, there is no reason at all to change it. It must be maintained over the long term," Xi said.

The Chinese president's speech was the finale of his two-day visit to the city.

The tightly choreographed trip is Xi's first outside of the mainland since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and his first to Hong Kong since the massive protests overwhelmed the city in 2019.

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at people welcoming his arrival at the West Kowloon railway station in Hong Kong on Jun 30, 2022. (Photo: Hong Kong Information Services Department/Handout via REUTERS)

Friday's ceremony included the inauguration of the city's new government, led by John Lee - a former security chief who oversaw the police response to those demonstrations.

"After all the storms, everyone has painfully learned that Hong Kong can't fall into chaos and Hong Kong can't afford chaos," Xi said.

"It must get rid of all disturbances and focus on development."

At the swearing-in ceremonies, all officials, including Xi, wore masks and did not shake hands.

CLOSED-LOOP

China still maintains strict zero-COVID controls and Xi's visit took place under a tightly monitored "closed-loop" system to protect him.

Those coming into the president's orbit - from the schoolchildren who welcomed him at the train station to the highest-ranking government officials - were made to take daily PCR tests and spend days in a quarantine hotel.

Parts of the city were closed off, and media coverage was tightly restricted.

Police moved to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi's time in the city, with national security police making at least nine arrests over the past week, and many of the few remaining opposition groups saying they had been warned off protesting.

Friday's celebrations began with a flag-raising ceremony at the city's Victoria Harbour, complete with a military flypast and a flotilla spraying plumes of water.

Xi was not present - local media reported he had spent the night in the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen and travelled back into the city on Friday morning.

All events have been closed to the public, but some scattered groups gathered near the flag-raising ceremony to watch the flypast.

"GREAT REJUVENATION"

Some analysts see Xi's visit as a victory tour after Beijing tightened its control of Hong Kong. After arriving in the city on Thursday, Xi said the city had overcome its challenges and "risen from the ashes".

"What happened over the past 25 years has proven that the future and destiny of Hong Kong must be in the hands of the patriots who would cry proudly for being Chinese," nationalist tabloid Global Times, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, wrote in an editorial.

"The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is irreversible and Hong Kong's tomorrow will be even brighter."

The handover anniversary has traditionally seen thousands march to voice grievances over everything from sky-high property prices to Beijing's grip over the city, including during Xi's last trip to Hong Kong.

On Jul 1, 2019, during the anti-government protests, demonstrators stormed and ransacked the city's legislature.

No protests are taking place this time, with the most outspoken opposition politicians and democracy activists either in jail or self-exile.

"It is the end of an era, it is the end of One Country, Two Systems," exiled Hong Kong activist Samuel Chu told Reuters from Oslo, Norway. "This is a city that is no longer recognisable."

Source: Agencies/aj

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