Hong Kong marks 20 years since handover to China
Thousands of protesters gather to demand more democracy despite Chinese president’s warning
A pro-China supporter is stopped by police as he tries to get closer to pro-democracy supporters. Photograph: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Hong Kong marked 20 years since the handover of power from Britain to China with a spectacular fireworks display in Victoria Harbour, but, just as it had in 1997, heavy rain dampened some of the excitement.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Victoria Park in the city’s Causeway Bay district demanding more democracy for Hong Kong.
Organisers said 60,000 attended, but the police said the figure was much lower.
Many in the park were sombre after President Xi Jinping warned democracy supporters against crossing “a red line” and undermining Beijing’s authority.
“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) 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,” Mr Xi said in his speech.
“On the other hand, on the basis of “One Country”, the “Two Systems”
should and have every reason to stay in harmony and reinforce each other,” he said.
Mr Xi also spoke of the “humiliation and sorrow” that China suffered during the first Opium War in the early 19th century that led to Hong Kong becoming a British colony. It was Mr Xi’s first visit to the territory as president.
Demonstrators held banners that read “One Country, Two Systems, a cheating for twenty years” and attacking Chinese communist rule.
“Cry in grief for 20 years!” read another banner at the rally in the park, which is also where the Goddess of Democracy statue, the symbol of the democracy movement in 1989 that was destroyed on Tiananmen Square, is placed every year on June 4th to mark the anniversary of the crackdown.
The heavy rain meant a planned rally outside government headquarters at Tamar had to be called off, and the turnout was lower than in previous years, organisers said.
Some of the demonstrators carried yellow umbrellas, which are the symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Protests of 2014 when demonstrators occupied the Central business district and parts of Kowloon.
Alex Yau, a teacher, said Hong Kongers now had no choice but to listen to watch China says.
“Hong Kong has declined. Hong Kong culture has changed. We’ve become more China but we’re not the Hong Kong of 20 years ago,” said Mr Yau.
“It’s very complicated. On the one side we are China but we are also Hong Kongers. Our bargain with China is very complicated. I treat Xi Jinping as a guest, as a very honoured guest, but he is not my leader,” said Mr Yau.
Near the site of the demonstration, the Hong Kong government had organised an exhibition testifying to China’s achievements in space travel.
One middle-aged resident surnamed Wong said he had found the military display last week - when the Chinese president inspected thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops at the Shek Kong barracks - quite remarkable.
The parade resembled similar events in Beijing, with Mr Xi standing to attention in an open-topped jeep shouting “Comrades!” and “Comrades, you are diligent and hard-working” at the troops.
“It reminded me of China not Hong Kong,” he said.
He was also surprised by the announcement by the Chinese foreign ministry on Friday that the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the blueprint for how the territory would be ruled after 1997, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance.
Under the Basic Law constitution, Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy for “for 50 years no change” after 1997 under a “one country, two systems”
One of the leaders of the protests was Joshua Wong, whose political party Demosisto is calling for greater autonomy and more democracy for Hong Kong.
He was detained by police earlier in the week when he tried to cover a statue of the bauhinia flower, Hong Kong’s symbol, with black cloth and he was detained again at the weekend.
He said the police had threatened his group earlier in the day and tried to stop them protesting.
“The statement of the Hong Kong police force deliberately neglected the fact that peaceful protesters were unreasonably forced into the police car and assaulted,” Mr Wong said.
Mr Xi also inaugurated Carrie Lam as chief executive of Hong Kong.
Roads were blocked to stop pro-democracy protesters from gaining access to the waterfront venue where the event was held, the same place where the last governor, Chris Patten, handed back Hong Kong to China in heavy rain in 1997.