Grand entrance: Performers sailing on a decorated ship near the area where ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule are taking place in Hong Kong. — Reuters
Hong Kong: China’s President Xi Jinping said Hong Kong was freer than ever before, but laid down an uncrossable “red line” for any challenge to Beijing’s authority as the city marked 20 years since it was handed back by Britain.
Xi spoke in a televised address after swearing in new Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government ... or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible,” Xi said.
He also referred to the “humiliation and sorrow” China suffered during the first Opium War in the early 1840s that led to the ceding of Hong Kong to the British.
His trip is his first since becoming leader in 2013 and comes three years after mass pro-democracy rallies crippled parts of the city for months.
He also warned against anyone endangering Hong Kong’s constitution or using the city “to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland”.
The warning comes after the emergence of young activists calling for self-determination or even full independence.
Xi insisted that Hong Kong had “more extensive democratic rights and freedoms than at any other time in its history” and pledged to uphold its semi-autonomous status.
“The people of Hong Kong, now masters of their own house, run their local affairs within the purview of autonomy,” he said.
The president stressed the importance of having a correct understanding of the relationship between “one country” and “two systems”.
The concept of “one country, two systems” was advanced, first and foremost, to realise and uphold national unity, according to Xi.
But Beijing’s foreign ministry declared on Friday that the document signed by Britain and China which initiated the handover “is no longer relevant”.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration gave Hong Kong rights unseen on the mainland through a “one country, two systems” agreement, which should last 50 years.
There are growing fears that those freedoms are now under threat from an assertive Beijing, with Chinese authorities accused of abductions and interfering in a range of areas, from politics to media and education.
Xi called on Hong Kong to “improve” its systems in order to uphold Chinese sovereignty and to “enhance” education to promote China’s culture and history.
A proposal to include patriotic education in Hong Kong schools met with huge protests in 2012 and has since been shelved.
Pro-China protesters targeted a small march by activists in memory of the victims of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown yesterday morning.
Flag-waving pro-China protesters blocked the march as police struggled to separate the two sides.
Democracy campaigners were taken away in police vans and released soon after. — Agencies