Xi visits a Hong Kong transformed by repression: live updates

Credit…Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

As Chinese leader Xi Jinping travels to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of Britain’s handover, he arrives in a city that has been dramatically transformed over the past three years, when millions of people took to the streets in Beijing’s biggest challenge to power in decades.

Mr. Xi’s ruling Communist Party quashed that challenge by tightening its grip. Authorities arrested thousands of protesters and activists, imposed a national security law that silenced dissent and rewrote election rules to exclude criticism of Beijing.

“This is an important trip for him,” said John P. Burns, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong. “Of course it’s about celebrating the 25th anniversary and all that, but it also declares victory over the pan-democrat opposition and its supporters.”

On Friday, Xi installed a handpicked former security official as the city’s next leader. He had previously met lawmakers selected after Beijing’s election overhaul, ensuring only “patriots” could take office in Hong Kong.

“Political power must be in the hands of patriots,” Xi said in a speech Friday after overseeing the new government’s swearing-in ceremony. “No country or region in the world will allow unpatriotic, or even treacherous or treacherous, forces and figures to take power.”

Hong Kong and Chinese officials attended a brief ceremony on Friday morning in which a police honor guard raised the flags of China and Hong Kong to mark the anniversary. A strong wind blew, and the sky was overcast and the rain threatening. A government helicopter with a large Chinese flag, followed by another with a smaller Hong Kong flag, flew over Victoria Harbor as the ceremony was held at 8 a.m., followed by a fireboat spraying water from its pipes.

But the pomp and ceremony contrasted sharply with the relative calm on the streets under a pronounced security presence. Squads of police patrolled neighborhoods near the ceremony venue, and rows of police vans lined the entrances to several subway stations. For many Hong Kong residents, the anniversary of the handover and Xi’s visit had little significance apart from a day off.

“The central government has little to do for Hong Kong. Let Hong Kong sort things out on its own. It’s a free economy, isn’t it? There wasn’t much governance before,” said Joeson Kwak, a 33-year-old interior design entrepreneur who was in the Wanchai district for breakfast. “I don’t feel anything special today. I’m glad I don’t have to go to work today.

Xi’s visit is as much a message to reinforce Beijing’s dominance over Hong Kong to the city’s 7.5 million people as it is a message of defiance to Western governments who have denounced its crackdown. The United States, Britain and other countries have accused China of breaking promises to allow Hong Kong to preserve its individual rights protections for 50 years under an arrangement known as the one country, two systems.

Subjugating Hong Kong also has personal significance for Xi. It will help him improve his standing among the Communist Party elite at a key time as he pursues a third five-year term, which he is expected to get later this year.

“We can expect the party congress in October, it will highlight the success of one country, two systems,” said Sonny Lo, a political commentator from Hong Kong.

For local activists, July 1 was an anniversary of crucial protests. But a combination of pandemic restrictions and political repression has largely eliminated such gatherings. A left-leaning group, the League of Social Democrats, had continued to mark important dates with small protests of just four people, which is technically allowed under social distancing rules.

But after visits from national security police, the group announced this week that it would not hold a protest on Friday. Members of the group have been under constant surveillance and their organization has been threatened with closure if they attempt to protest, said Avery Ng, the group’s general secretary.

“It’s like China,” he said.

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