Don’t threaten China, Xi warns Hong Kong

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Kelvin Chan and Christo­pher Bodeen of The Associated Press; and by Austin Ramzy of The New York Times.

HONG KONG — Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping warned Satur­day that any ac­tiv­i­ties in Hong Kong seen as threat­en­ing China’s sovereignty and sta­bil­ity would be “ab­so­lutely im­per­mis­si­ble.” It was some of his harsh­est lan­guage yet against bur­geon­ing sep­a­ratist sen­ti­ment in the ter­ri­tory.

In a speech mark­ing 20 years since the city be­came a semi­au­tonomous Chi­nese re­gion af­ter its hand-over from Bri­tain, Xi pledged Beijing’s sup­port for the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” blue­print, un­der which Hong Kong con­trols many of its own af­fairs and re­tains civil lib­er­ties, in­clud­ing free speech.

How­ever, he said Hong Kong had to do more to shore up se­cu­rity and boost pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion.

He also ap­peared to put on no­tice a new wave of ac­tivists

push­ing for more au­ton­omy or even in­de­pen­dence, say­ing chal­lenges to the power of China’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment and Hong Kong’s lead­ers won’t be tol­er­ated.

Any at­tempt to chal­lenge China’s sovereignty, se­cu­rity and gov­ern­ment au­thor­ity 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, mo­ments af­ter pre­sid­ing over the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Hong Kong’s new leader, Car­rie Lam.

Hong Kong has been roiled by po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that took tens of thou­sands of pro­test­ers into the streets in 2014 de­mand­ing demo­cratic re­forms. Those calls were ig­nored by Beijing, and Xi in­di­cated that there will be no giv­ing ground in the fu­ture.

“Mak­ing ev­ery­thing po­lit­i­cal or de­lib­er­ately cre­at­ing dif­fer­ences and pro­vok­ing con­fronta­tions will not re­solve the prob­lems,” Xi said, adding that Hong Kong “can­not af­ford to be torn apart by reck­less moves or in­ter­nal rifts.”

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an ex­pert on Chi­nese pol­i­tics at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity, said it was clear that Xi’s pri­or­ity is for Lam to re­vive ef­forts to adopt long-de­layed na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion — which pro-democ­racy ac­tivists fear will be used to sup­press dis­sent — and pa­tri­otic na­tional ed­u­ca­tion in schools, which par­ents fear is a cover for pro-Com­mu­nist “brain­wash­ing.”

Xi’s com­ments on “in­fil­tra­tion and sab­o­tage” in par­tic­u­lar sig­nal that the gov­ern­ment will likely try to res­ur­rect se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion, known as Ar­ti­cle 23, against sedi­tion and sub­ver­sion, said Willy Lam, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

They’re two po­lar­iz­ing is­sues that have the po­ten­tial to mo­bi­lize big crowds to take to the streets.

“We are head­ing to­wards trou­bled times,” said Cabestan. “I don’t think he’s go­ing to give up. If he doesn’t give up, it means there will be more prob­lems.”

While Bri­tain and other West­ern democ­ra­cies have ex­pressed con­cerns about Beijing’s ac­tions in Hong Kong, China has in­creas­ingly made clear that it brooks no out­side crit­i­cism or at­tempts to in­ter­vene.

Xi said China had made it “cat­e­gor­i­cally clear” in talks with Bri­tain in the 1980s that “sovereignty is not for ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

“Now that Hong Kong has re­turned to China, it is all the more im­por­tant for us to firmly up­hold China’s sovereignty,

se­cu­rity and devel­op­ment in­ter­ests,” he said.

Car­rie Lam be­came Hong Kong’s fifth chief ex­ec­u­tive since 1997 and the first woman to hold the post. The ca­reer civil ser­vant and her Cab­i­net swore to serve China and Hong Kong and to up­hold the Ba­sic Law, the ter­ri­tory’s mini-con­sti­tu­tion.

In a speech that ran a frac­tion of Xi’s 32-minute ad­dress, Car­rie Lam re­viewed the dy­namic fi­nan­cial cen­ter’s achieve­ments and chal­lenges, pledged to sup­port cen­tral gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives and de­clared that “the fu­ture is bright.”

There was other sym­bol­ism hint­ing at the bal­ance of power.

Lam took her oath of of­fice and de­liv­ered her ad­dress in Man­darin, China’s of­fi­cial lan­guage, save for a few lines at the end in Hong Kong’s Can­tonese di­alect. The of­fi­cial tran­script of Xi’s speech was printed in the main­land’s sim­pli­fied char­ac­ters in­stead of Hong Kong’s tra­di­tional com­plex char­ac­ters.

Even the Chi­nese flag dis­played be­hind Xi as he spoke was no­tice­ably larger than Hong Kong’s be­side it.

Lam pre­vailed over a much more pop­u­lar ri­val in a se­lec­tion process con­demned by many as “fake democ­racy,” with only 777 votes from a 1,200-seat panel of mostly pro-Beijing elites. Hong Kong has more than 3 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers.

HONG KONG PROTESTS

Hours af­ter Xi flew home to Beijing, thou­sands of pro-democ­racy sup­port­ers gath­ered for a march through the city’s shop­ping and fi­nan­cial dis­tricts to de­mand greater po­lit­i­cal open­ness and to op­pose China’s creep­ing in­flu­ence in their city.

Ac­tivists scoffed at Xi’s re­marks.

The idea that there’s a force in Hong Kong sab­o­tag­ing China or chal­leng­ing its sovereignty is “lu­di­crous,” said Avery Ng of the League

of So­cial Democrats, a small pro-democ­racy party. He said Xi used na­tion­al­ist pride “to alien­ate any op­po­si­tion voices that call for democ­racy and uni­ver­sal suf­frage both in­side China and in Hong Kong.”

Mem­bers of Ng’s group at­tempted to march to the speech venue with a mock cof­fin sym­bol­iz­ing the death of the city’s civil lib­er­ties, but were met by po­lice and pro-China coun­ter­protesters in a brief stand­off.

Ng said he and an­other ac­tivist, Figo Chan, were beaten by the po­lice while they were in cus­tody. The po­lice me­dia of­fice did not an­swer calls for com­ment Satur­day af­ter­noon.

July 1 is a public hol­i­day in Hong Kong to mark the han­dover to Chi­nese sovereignty, but it also has be­come a big day for pro-democ­racy protests. In 2003, a half-mil­lion peo­ple took to the streets to protest the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the deadly SARS out­break and ef­forts to en­act the Ar­ti­cle 23 na­tional se­cu­rity law. The size of sub­se­quent protests has var­ied as dis­con­tent with the gov­ern­ment has ebbed and flowed.

Mean­while, in­ci­dents such as the secret de­ten­tions of five Hong Kong book­sell­ers on the main­land have stirred fears that Beijing is un­der­min­ing the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” blue­print.

Par­tic­i­pants in the pro-democ­racy march largely dis­missed Lam as a loyal bu­reau­crat but said the change in lead­er­ship in­tro­duced a new mea­sure of uncer­tainty.

That, com­bined with Xi’s visit, had sharp­ened the mood for this year’s march, said one vet­eran par­tic­i­pant, re­tiree David Tse. “Things are much more tense. It’s much more un­cer­tain,” he said.

Or­ga­niz­ers es­ti­mated the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants at 60,000, about half of last year’s fig­ure. The pro-democ­racy move­ment lost con­sid­er­able mo­men­tum af­ter Beijing turned a cold shoul­der to the 2014 protests. Po­lice es­ti­mated that 14,500 took part, down

about 5,000 from their es­ti­mate last year.

Univer­sity stu­dent Sean Law, com­ment­ing on Xi’s speech, said it showed the pres­i­dent’s “ig­no­rance” about Hong Kong.

“He wants to spread China’s ideas, but he doesn’t un­der­stand Hong Kong and has lit­tle con­tact with the peo­ple of Hong Kong. His visit is mean­ing­less,” Law said.

“Hong Kong orig­i­nally had free­dom of speech, but in the fu­ture, un­der the in­flu­ence of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, it won’t be so easy to speak

out,” Shandi Le­ung, 25, said as she stood along­side the slow line of pro­test­ers walk­ing through the Wan Chai dis­trict of Hong Kong is­land.

Around her, peo­ple car­ried signs for a host of causes: work­ers’ rights, com­mu­nity agri­cul­ture, in­de­pen­dent me­dia and Falun Gong, the spir­i­tual move­ment banned in main­land China. They marched in op­pres­sive heat and in­ter­mit­tent down­pours, united by calls for a more di­rect say in their gov­ern­ment and con­cerns that their civil lib­er­ties are un­der threat.

“The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, they don’t want to lis­ten to any­one in Hong Kong or any­where else,” said Lam Ping, a 53-year-old hos­pi­tal tech­ni­cian who car­ried a sign call­ing for the re­lease of Liu Xiaobo, the Chi­nese No­bel lau­re­ate who was re­cently moved from prison to a hos­pi­tal for cancer treat­ment. “They care about the one coun­try, not the two sys­tems.”

AP/NG HAN GUAN

Pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers clash with pro-Chi­nese coun­ter­protesters Satur­day in Hong Kong dur­ing a march to de­mand greater open­ness and to op­pose China’s creep­ing in­flu­ence in the city.

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