Tension simmers after 20 years of Chinese rule
Beijing forging ahead with anniversary celebrations.
HONG KONG – Hong Kong is planning a big party as it marks 20 years under Chinese rule. But many people in the former British colony are not in the mood to celebrate.
Fireworks, a gala variety show and Chinese military displays are among the official events planned to coincide with a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping starting Thursday for the occasion.
Ahead of the anniversary, state broadcaster China Central Television has been running daily features extolling what it calls the inextricable ties between China and Hong Kong.
Underneath the surface, however, tensions are simmering as Hong Kongers, especially the young, chafe at life under the tightening grip of China’s Communist leaders.
“People are not celebrating but worrying about Hong Kong’s future,” said Nathan Law, who at age 23 was elected the city’s youngest-ever lawmaker last year and was a student leader of 2014’s massive “Umbrella Movement” prodemocracy demonstrations.
Law and activists from his Demosistol party and other groups have targeted a giant flower sculpture bequeathed by Beijing in 1997 that is popular with mainland tourists. On Wednesday evening they staged a sit-in, with some climbing up inside the sculpture, and chanted “No Xi Jinping” before police moved in to arrest them. Two days earlier they had briefly draped the sculpture in black cloth.
Other protests in the works include a rally by a pro-independence group on Friday evening and a pro-democracy march on Saturday, the latter an annual event that has drawn big crowds in the past.
Law said there’s growing concern that Beijing is steadily eroding the “one country, two systems” principle put in place after it took control of the Asian financial hub. Under that principle, Hong Kong largely runs its own affairs and enjoys civil liberties unseen on the mainland, but now, he said, “there are lots of people describing the current system as ‘one country, 1.5 systems.’ ”
He and others tick off a list of incidents that stoke residents’ fears. At the top is the case of five Hong Kong booksellers secretly detained on the mainland in late 2015 for selling gossipy titles about elite Chinese politics to mainland readers. One of the men, Gui Minhai, is still being held.
Similarly, a Chinese-born tycoon with a Canadian passport went missing earlier this year. News reports indicated mainland security agents abducted him — a violation of the city’s constitution.
Myriad other government plans include stationing Chinese immigration officers in a downtown high-speed rail terminus under construction, introducing so-called patriotic education in schools that many parents fear is a cover for proCommunist brainwashing, and introducing anti-subversion legislation.
Deepening divisions risk of further instability, said David Zweig, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Beijing “can’t figure out why 20 years after the transition, people … don’t love the mainland more,” he said. “People like living in a free society,” he said, “and they want their kids to live in a free society.”
A pro-democracy activist was led away by police in Hong Kong after he climbed a giant flower statue, a gift from Beijing.