Protests erupt as Hong Kong marks 20 years of handover

Violet Powell
July 2, 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping, visiting Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, said on Friday the city's "one country, two systems" formula faces "new challenges" as pro-democracy campaigners ramped up their protests.

In the wake of the turnover in 1997, the Chinese government agreed that Hong Kong and the mainland would operate under a "one country, two systems" agreement. but Beijing no longer believes this setup to be in the best interests of the central government.

Many young people have also realized that Hong Kong would not have real democracy under the "one country, two systems" model, he said, adding that the trend of young people establishing their own identity while rejecting a Chinese identity would not stop.

Xi's stern warning came at a gathering to mark 20 years of Chinese rule in Hong Kong and swearing-in of pro-Beijing new Chief Executive Carry Lam and her cabinet.

Xi, dressed in a dark suit and striped red tie, in the morning addressed a packed hall of mostly pro-Beijing establishment figures, after swearing in Hong Kong's first female leader, Carrie Lam, who was strongly backed by China.

Alex Huang (黃重諺), spokesman for the Presidential Office, said that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities should view the Hong Kong people's demand for free speech, free gathering and independent jurisdiction with a positive and open mind.

Many protesters carried banners calling for his release, or pictures of empty chairs - echoing the award of his 2010 Nobel prize that took place while he was in prison.

Earlier Saturday, more than 20 members of the political parties League of Social Democrats and Demosisto attempted to stage a protest near the exhibition centre where Xi was due to make his speech.

At midnight on June 30, 1997, after sampling a curry dish and a rum punch at the Regent Hotel, the main Chinese and British authorities attended the act that would forever change the course of Hong Kong. Nine democracy protesters, including Joshua Wong and lawmaker "long hair" Leung Kwok-hung, were bundled into police vans while several pro-China groups remained, cheering loudly and waving red China flags.

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Hu Zhanghong, chairman and chief executive officer of CCB International (Holdings) Ltd, said that Hong Kong's status as an international financial center has been further strengthened after the handover, especially over the last decade.

In the semi autonomous province of Hong Kong, Mr Xi, dressed in army greens, inspected 3,000 People's Liberation Army troops.

"Hong Kong is an affluent society, but it also faces enormous challenges posed by profound changes in the global economic environment and the increasingly intense worldwide competition", he said.

March organizer Au Nok-hin called on people to stand up for Hong Kong's rights and freedoms under the terms of the handover treaty, which China dismissed on Friday as "a historical document. with no practical application", and which the United Kingdom said is still valid. She said she is very confident to that young Hong Kong people are full of passion and competitiveness, which are based on the region's development and the opportunities provided by the mainland's continuous reform and opening-up.

Without giving specifics, Xi said these needed to be corrected and not handled with an "emotional attitude".

Beijing has taken a tougher stance on Hong Kong in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the 79 days of the "Occupy" protests in 2014.

"There are many different problems - the housing shortage, corruption, economic problems - but all of them stem from the influence of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)", said Karen Chan, 31.

It was the largest Chinese military parade the city had ever seen, a clear sign that Beijing is tightening its grip over Hong Kong.

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