Ten­sion sim­mers af­ter 20 years of Chi­nese rule

Bei­jing forg­ing ahead with an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

Star Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By KELVIN CHAN As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

VINCNET YU • As­so­ci­ated Press

A pro-democ­racy ac­tivist was led away by po­lice in Hong Kong af­ter he climbed a gi­ant flower statue, a gift from Bei­jing.

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