President Xi draws ‘red line’ warning at 20th Hong Kong handover anniversary

China's President Xi Jinping. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)
China’s President Xi Jinping. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)

(, Jul04, 2017) – Defying Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warning that any attempt, among others, to “challenge the power of the central government” is an act that “crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible”, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China on Jul 1, calling for fully democratic elections and for the immediate release of terminally ill political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. Both are absolute taboo topics to Beijing.

Some 60,000 marchers took umbrellas, banners and performance art to show their anger over the erosion of traditional rights and freedoms in the city during the past two decades of Chinese rule, reported the Cantonese Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA, Washington) Jul 1. It said the marchers called on the Beijing-backed administration of newly inaugurated chief executive Carrie Lam to “delay no more” in moving towards universal suffrage and public nominations.

The warning was issued by a grim, unsmiling Xi during the handover ceremony earlier in the day at which Carrie Lam, not a popular choice by the people of Hong Kong, formally took charge. Xi promised to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy but focused entirely on the “one country” aspect of the “one country, two systems” guaranteed at the time of the 1997 handover. This promise of high degree of autonomy was supposed to last for at least 50 years, but Xi said it was important to have a “correct understanding” of the relationship between one country and two systems, reported Jul 1.

“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government … 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,” the RFA report quoted Xi as saying.

Hours after Xi issued this warning, the protest marchers raised banners with slogans such as “Democracy Delay No More!” “China, Get Out of Hong Kong!” and “Independence for Hong Kong!” and with portraits of Nobel Peace laureate Liu.

The protest march was marred by scuffles with pro-Beijing groups and allegations of police violence.

The report said organizers estimated that around 60,000 people turned out on Jul 1, compared with some 110,000 last year, while the police, who sealed off a number of road intersections to prevent new protesters from joining the march along its route, have said they had counted just 14,500.

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee, as authorized under Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the Basic Law, recently intervened to rule out public nomination of candidates in a debate over electoral reform and to oust two pro-independence lawmakers who changed the wording of their oaths of allegiance, prompting protests by lawyers and the public fearing for the city’s judicial independence.

“We want to take back Hong Kong, defend our independent judiciary and the rule of law, as well as the foundations of our economic success,” lawmaker Lau Siu-lai was quoted as saying.

Many in Hong Kong also accused China of violating the territory’s autonomy in 2015 when it seized and took away to the mainland five publishers who were putting out gossipy books about the Chinese leadership and allegedly distributing them on the mainland.

Both Xi and new Chief Executive Carrie Lam set themselves on a collision course with the considerable section of Hong Kong residents who value democracy and freedom more than economic development. Xi in his speech raised two demands that had previously brought Hong Kong residents out on the streets in the hundreds of thousands. He said the territory needed to improve its systems “to defend national security, sovereignty and development interests,” as well as “enhance education and raise public awareness of the history and culture of the Chinese nation.”

But China’s demand that Hong Kong pass a national security law had prompted massive street protests 14 years ago, while plans to implement a program of “patriotic education” brought more people onto the streets in 2012 and helped politicize the territory’s youths, noted the report.

Both plans were subsequently shelved, but taking cue from Xi, Lam has indicated that she wanted to put them back on the table. She also argues that the time isn’t right to satisfy a popular demand for greater democracy by allowing a future chief executive to be chosen by universal suffrage, the report added.


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