China’s Xi in first official Hong Kong visit for handover anniversary

Leader will attend events to mark 20th anniversary of reversion to Chinese rule

Activists  led by Umbrella protest leader Joshua Wong (centre) on Monday draped a black cloth over a statue of a bauhinia flower presented by China in 1997 as a symbol of co-operation. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Activists led by Umbrella protest leader Joshua Wong (centre) on Monday draped a black cloth over a statue of a bauhinia flower presented by China in 1997 as a symbol of co-operation. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

 

China’s president, Xi Jinping, travels to Hong Kong this week to mark 20 years since Britain handed the territory back to Chinese rule, and his visit is likely to be marked by noisy protests by pro-democracy activists.

The official news agency Xinhua said Mr Xi would visit Hong Kong between June 29th and July 1st and would attend a flag-raising ceremony, inspect the People’s Liberation Army garrison and swear in Carrie Lam as the next Hong Kong chief executive.

Ms Lam was picked by a small group of elite mostly pro-Beijing interest groups but she promised to try to heal divisions in the city.

Mr Xi will also attend an as-yet unspecified joint Hong Kong-Chinese construction project, possibly the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge or the controversial high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, which has been dogged by problems.

Hong Kong has been disturbed by political turbulence in recent years and many locals feel the central government tin Beijing is interfering more and more in the daily life of the city.

Discontent

The territory’s economy has enjoyed the benefits of closer links to China, but increased investment from the mainland, especially in property, has seen housing priced out of the reach of many people and services hit in the former British crown colony, leading to public discontent.

There have been calls for greater autonomy and even independence since the Umbrella protests of late 2014, which saw swathes of downtown occupied for 79 days as especially students and young people demonstrated seeking more representative democracy for Hong Kong.

The protests failed to secure any concessions on democracy and fears are growing that Beijing is dismantling the freedoms guaranteed as part of the handover in 1997, after incidents such as the arrest of five Hong Kong booksellers who vanished into Chinese police custody in 2015 and the disqualification of two pro-democracy parliamentarians elected to the legislature.

Mr Xi last visited Hong Kong in 2008, when he arrived by car across the border after visiting the neighbouring province of Guangdong, in what was seen as a highly symbolic move.

In a sign of what sort of protests can be expected, a dozen activists from the Demosisto political party, led by the Umbrella protest leader Joshua Wong, draped a black cloth over a giant statue of a golden bauhinia flower.

The bauhinia is Hong Kong’s floral emblem and the statue was presented by China in 1997 as a symbol of co-operation.

“We at Demosisto are organising a large demonstration of civil disobedience for July 1st,” said Mr Wong. Demosisto wants a referendum in Hong Kong about what will happen in 2047, the year that the “50 years no change” deal agreed between Britain and China expires.

Hong Kong authorities are preparing a major security operation.

The police have been told to ensure that the democracy groups would embarrass Hong Kong with posters along the route Mr Xi will take. Local media said they were particularly anxious that a doctored image showing Mr Xi holding a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the 2014 protests, should not come into his field of vision during this trip.