Xi warns Hong Kong democrats against crossing red line

Tens of thousands attend march as Carrie Lam sworn in as territory’s chief executive

 Chinese president Xi Jinping and new Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam after she is sworn in during her inauguration ceremony at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre in Hong Kong, China. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Chinese president Xi Jinping and new Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam after she is sworn in during her inauguration ceremony at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre in Hong Kong, China. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

 

Exactly two decades after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, President Xi Jinping warned democracy advocates against crossing a “red line” and undermining Beijing’s authority, as tens of thousands marched for more autonomy.

“Any attempt to endanger national 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,” he said.

Mr Xi was speaking at a gathering to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule and inaugurate Carrie Lam as chief executive of Hong Kong.

There were no “meet and greet” events or meetings with the pro-democracy camp during Mr Xi’s visit, a sign of how little tolerance there is in Beijing for Hong Kong’s calls for greater autonomy.

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.

Mr Xi referred to 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.

Under the Basic Law constitution, Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy “for 50 years no change” after 1997 under a “one country, two systems” model.

Hong Kong people enjoy more extensive democratic rights and freedom than at any other time in its history, he said.

“The people of Hong Kong, now masters of their own house, run their local affairs within the purview of autonomy of the HKSAR,” he said.

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, while the police said the figure was much lower.

Demonstrators held banners that read “One Country, Two Systems, a cheating for 20 years”.

“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 Alex Yau, a teacher.

“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.

Mr Xi’s visit has been seen as a show of strength by Beijing, the most potent since the Umbrella Protests of 2014 that saw large parts of the city shut down by young democracy demonstrators.

Since then there is a perception that Beijing has been interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, with the abduction across the border by mainland agents of five Hong Kong booksellers and pressure from Beijing to disqualify two pro-independence politicians elected to the city’s Legislative Council.

Cultural links

Ireland’s Consul General Peter Ryan said Ms Lam’s appointment was a good thing for Ireland.

“Carrie Lam knows Ireland well and visited a little over two years ago on an intense programme focused on education, technology and cultural links,” said Mr Ryan.

He said ties with Hong Kong had flourished since the establishment of the Consulate General in 2014.

“Since that time, there have been five ministerial level visits from Ireland to the financial centre and Ireland’s trade has grown annually,” said Mr Ryan.

Joshua Wong, whose political party Demosisto is calling for greater autonomy and more democracy for Hong Kong, was detained by police earlier in the week when he tried to cover a statue of the bauhinia flower with black cloth.

Mr Wong 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.