July 1 is the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China from Great Britain. With thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets, President Xi Jinping marked the occasion by issuing a sterner than normal warning that the patience of the Communist government was not infinite and that any threat to the stability of the island would be “absolutely impermissible.”
In a speech marking 20 years since the city became a semi-autonomous Chinese region after its handover 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, in a veiled reference to legislation long-delayed by popular opposition.
And he 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 wouldn’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 brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets in 2014 demanding democratic reforms. Those calls were ignored by Beijing and Xi indicated there would be no giving ground in the future, frustrating many young people and deepening divisions.
“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.”
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 oppose China’s creeping influence in their city.
Young activists have formed new groups promoting independence or a local Hong Kong identity separate from the mainland, alarming Beijing.
Xi is is either paranoid or playing the typical commie game of equating dissent with “instability.”
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 flag-waving counter-protesters in a brief standoff.
China needs Hong Kong a helluva lot more than Hong Kong needs China. Xi knows this, which makes the mainland’s Communist government nervous. They believe that the way to solve their problem and cement the loyalty and submission of Hong Kong is through “patriotic education” in schools.
Brainwashing the next generation will not work. Kids in Hong Kong will still be exposed to Western ideas of freedom and democracy unless the government shuts down the internet and prevents satellite TV programming. The days when a Communist government could close off the outside world from their citizens are gone forever and Xi is kidding himself if he believes otherwise.
But Hong Kong has its own political problems. Not everyone is enamored of the idea of more freedom and looser ties with the mainland. Along with the pro-democracy demonstrations, there were pro-China demonstrations as well. These divisions are always just below the surface of Hong Kong society and might bring about that instability that President Xi has warned against.