Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned against “impermissible” challenges to China’s authority over Hong Kong and said any attempt to question Beijing’s sovereignty in the former British colony would cross a “red line”.
Xi’s stern warning came at a gathering to mark 20 years of Chinese rule in Hong Kong and swearing-in of pro-Beijing new Chief Executive Carry Lam and her cabinet.
“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 Administration 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,” Xi said.
Xi arrived on a three-day visit on June 29 amid an unprecedented security to keep the protesters at bay.
It was Xi’s first visit to the city since he took power in 2013, and came amid fears by some Hong Kongers of increasing Chinese encroachment on the city’s autonomy -- guaranteed under a framework known as “one country, two systems”.
Hong Kong has been simmering for the past few years with massive demonstrations, including prolonged “occupy protests” against China screening candidates to contest elections.
Sounding exasperated over the recurring protests, Xi said people in Hong Kong was freer than ever.
“The people of Hong Kong, now masters of their own house, run their local affairs within the purview of autonomy of the HKSAR,” he was quoted as saying by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Several pro-democracy groups protested against Xi’s visit and scuffled with pro-China organisations and police. Scores of them were arrested.
Xi stressed the importance of having a correct understanding of the relationship between “one country” and “two systems”, saying that the system was advanced to realise and uphold national unity.
“In conducting day-to-day affairs, we must be guided by a strong sense of ‘one country,’ firmly observe the principle of ‘one country,’ and thus correctly handle the relationship between the HKSAR and the central government,” he said.
On the other hand, Xi said, the “two systems” should and have every reason to stay in harmony and reinforce each other on the basis of “one country”.
“We must both adhere to the ‘one country’ principle and respect the differences of the ‘two systems,’” he said.
The central government will unswervingly implement the policy of “one country, two systems” and make sure that it is fully applied in Hong Kong without being bent or distorted, he said.
Hong Kong cannot afford to be torn apart by reckless moves or internal rift amid the intense global competition, Xi cautioned.
Hong Kong is a plural society with “different views and even major differences on some specific issues,” he acknowledged.
However, “making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems,” Xi said. “On the contrary, it can only severely hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development.”
“Hong Kong is an affluent society, but it also faces enormous challenges posed by profound changes in the global economic environment and the increasingly intense
international competition,” he said.
The concept of “one country, two systems” gives expression to the vision of peace and harmony in the Chinese culture, and it embodies a very important tenet, namely, seeking broad common ground while setting aside major differences, Xi said.
“On the part of the central government, we are ready to talk to anyone who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, no matter what political views or position he or she may hold.”
Xi said Hong Kong should always focus on development as the top priority.
“The central government will continue to support Hong Kong in growing its economy and in leveraging its strengths and role in advancing his pet multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Reminbi internationalisation and other strategies,” Xi said.
“I am convinced that the practice of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong will write a new chapter,” he said.
As Xi spoke, thousands of pro-democracy protesters set off from Victoria Park. The key themes of the protests were reclaim Hong Kong and release of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace prize winner who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
A protester said more and more people were getting frustrated by the increasing influence of Beijing on the city, which is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.
He said that growing concerns over Liu and Beijing’s recent claim that the Sino-British Joint Declaration “no longer has any realistic meaning” could spark more people to take to the streets.