World

Xi reassures HK on autonomy

Chinese President arrives in a divided city, marking 20 years under Chinese rule

HONG KONG: Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday that China would work to ensure a "far-reaching future" for Hong Kong's autonomy, but he faces a divided city with protesters angered by Beijing's perceived interference as it marks 20 years of Chinese rule.

Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a "one country, two systems" formula which guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and judicial independence unseen in mainland China.

Beijing has promised Hong Kong's capitalist system will remain unchanged for at least 50 years, until 2047, but it is not clear what may happen after that.

"Hong Kong has always tugged at my heartstrings," Mr Xi said on arrival at Hong Kong airport at the start of a three-day visit.

"We are willing, together with different sectors of Hong Kong society, to look back on it's unusual course in the past 20 years, draw conclusions from the experience, look into the future and to ensure 'one country, two systems' is stable and has a far-reaching future."

Mr Xi's message was consistent with those of other senior Chinese leaders visiting Hong Kong in the past, that Beijing would safeguard the city's development, prosperity and people's livelihoods.

He also praised Hong Kong's outgoing leader, Leung Chun Ying, who cracked down hard on pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, for his contributions to the country, "especially safeguarding national security".

"These past five years have not been easy at all," Mr Xi said.

An annual July 1 protest pressing social causes, including a call for full democracy, is expected to take place after Mr Xi leaves tomorrow.

Part of the major rift under Chinese rule in Hong Kong has been a push by activists, including the 2014 street protests, to get China to live up to a constitutional promise under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, to allow universal suffrage as an "ultimate aim".

"This promise has been shattered under the watchful eyes of the whole world," organisers of tomorrow's planned rally wrote in a statement.

"Hong Kong has been lied to for 20 years. Let's retake Hong Kong for a real and fully fledged democracy."

A massive security presence is expected with thousands of police deployed to maintain order as protests simmer.

Over the past five years, under Mr Xi's tenure and amid a ferocious crackdown on dissent on the mainland, the squeeze on Hong Kong's autonomy has intensified, say some diplomats, activists and citizens.

"Xi Jinping's visit is a great chance for us to protest against him," said Law Sui Yung, 63, a retired primary school teacher.

"In recent years, especially after he took office, Hong Kong has seriously deteriorated into one of the mainland cities."

Mr Xi, on his first visit to Hong Kong as China's president, will oversee the swearing in of the city's first female leader, Carrie Lam. He will also visit the local People's Liberation Army garrison and meet establishment figures. - REUTERS

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