As Chinese leader Xi Jinping left Hong Kong on Friday after a rare visit to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover to Britain, reactions to his speech ranged from calling him “reassuring” to calling his stance ” delusional”.
The Chinese Communist Party places great importance on anniversaries, and the trip provided Xi with an opportunity to underscore China’s authority over Hong Kong after three years of political upheaval.
“Xi’s speech and language have reiterated the political message in Hong Kong since the national security law,” political scientist Kenneth Chan of Hong Kong Baptist University told AFP.
“Beijing now exercises full control over the city through the loyalists.”
Since China imposed a national security law on the city following huge pro-democracy protests that engulfed the city in 2019, dissent has been stifled in the once politically vibrant city.
Xi’s insistence that democracy was thriving despite years of political repression was met with contempt by those who had been most affected by Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
Ted Hui, a former opposition lawmaker who fled overseas in 2020 after being arrested multiple times, said Xi’s remark that ‘real democracy’ only started after the handover was “a lie”.
“As early as the 1970s and 1980s, the people of Hong Kong had launched their own democratic movement and started to develop their civil society,” he told AFP.
He said that under British rule the city never had full democracy, but now “we have lost both the formality and the substance of democracy, especially after the implementation of the national security”.
One of his former colleagues, Emily Lau, said “true democracy never started in Hong Kong either before or after 1997”.
She agreed that now the city had “lost both freedoms and democracy”.
“Clear and solid”
After waving Xi off at a high-speed train station, Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, said the visit had been “inspirational”.
Xi has repeatedly said that one country, two systems, the governance model agreed upon by Britain and China, under which the city retains some autonomy and freedoms, works well and does not need to change. .
Lee said Xi’s remarks were a “very clear and very solid” statement.
The sentiment was echoed by the Law Society of Hong Kong, which issued a statement saying that “Xi’s clear assurances and inspirational guidance on Hong Kong’s well-being and our integration into our country’s overall development was encouraging. “.
Hui was scathing that the governance model was working well.
“I think it’s an illusion to say that Hong Kong can continue to retain its unique advantages under the current system,” he said. “Because the uniqueness of Hong Kong was its freedom, its autonomy in policy-making.”
In the streets of Hong Kong, wet from thunderstorms that battered the city all day Friday, Jonathan Yeung, 46, said Xi’s position that One Country, Two Systems had no reason to change was “laughable”.
“He was behind the biggest changes,” he said.
“(Xi’s) speech was just a to-do list for John Lee, I don’t think he was addressing Hong Kongers like me.”
A jewelry store owner named Wan, 44, said he thought it was good that Xi had set clear priorities for the next administration.
He agreed with Xi’s sentiment that Hong Kong “couldn’t afford to descend into chaos”.
“The past few years have been very difficult, regardless of politics and occupation,” Wan said.
In his speech, Xi laid particular emphasis on young people, saying authorities “must enhance their national pride and sense of belonging.”
A man named Lee, a 19-year-old university student, was unimpressed with Xi’s urgings.
“When he says there needs to be more focus on young people, it only means that a nationalist agenda is being pushed in schools,” he told AFP.
“He doesn’t care what the young people themselves want.”
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