Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong being part of the Chinese administrative region. Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain 20 years ago.
Thousands of policemen were deployed to keep away angry demonstrators from the planned celebrations. Several activists were also put under arrest as authorities sought to avoid embarrassment during anniversary celebrations. Large parts of the city were also locked down.
The three-day visit is Xi’s first since becoming leader in 2013, and comes three years after huge pro-democracy protests crippled the semi-autonomous city for months as “Umbrella Movement” campaigners camped out on thoroughfares.
The lockdown reflects Beijing’s concern that nothing should be allowed to taint the high-profile visit, ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this year which is expected to cement Xi’s position as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation.
More than 20 activists — including Joshua Wong and young legislator Nathan Law — remained in custody after being arrested for causing a “public nuisance” during a Wednesday night protest. They are angry at Beijing tightening its grip on the freedoms of nearly eight million people.
Xi’s carefully choreographed trip began with his arrival at Chek Lap Kok airport along with his wife, singer Peng Liyuan.
“After nine years I am once again stepping on Hong Kong soil. I feel very happy. Hong Kong has always had a place in my heart,” Xi said in a brief speech after landing.
He added that China would support Hong Kong’s development and improve people’s livelihoods “as it always has” but suggested he felt the city could be doing better by saying he “sincerely wishes Hong Kong can once again achieve splendour”.
Xi said he wanted to ensure Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” set-up, which is enshrined in the handover deal and gives it rights unseen on the mainland, “is on a stable, long lasting path”.
Pro-democracy campaigners say the system is being eroded and liberties are being squeezed as Beijing interferes in a range of areas, from politics to education and media. The failure of mass rallies in 2014 to win democratic reform has sparked a new wave of “localist” activists, keen to emphasise Hong Kong’s own identity, with some calling for a full split from the mainland.
(With inputs from PTI)