China's Xi tells Hong Kong he seeks
'far-reaching future' for its autonomy
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[June 29, 2017]
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese
President Xi Jinping said on Thursday China would work to ensure a
"far-reaching future" for Hong Kong's autonomy, but he faces a divided
city with protesters angered by Beijing's perceived interference as it
marks 20 years of Chinese rule.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a "one
country, two systems" formula which guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and
judicial independence unseen in mainland China.
Beijing has promised Hong Kong's capitalist system will remain unchanged
for "at least" 50 years until 2047, but it has not clarified what
happens after that.
"Hong Kong has always tugged at my heartstrings," Xi said on arrival at
Hong Kong airport for the handover anniversary in front of flag-waving
crowds at the start of a three-day visit.
"... We are willing, together with different sectors of Hong Kong
society, to look back on Hong Kong's unusual course in the past 20
years, draw conclusions from the experience, look into the future and to
ensure 'one country, two systems' is stable and has a far-reaching
Xi's message was consistent with those of other senior Chinese leaders
visiting Hong Kong in the past, that Beijing would safeguard the city's
development, prosperity and people's livelihoods.
In reality, however, fears of the creeping influence of Communist Party
leaders in Beijing have been starkly exposed in recent years by the
abduction by mainland agents of some Hong Kong booksellers who
specialized in politically sensitive material and Beijing's efforts in
disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city
Xi did not respond to journalists, including one who asked whether Liu
Xiaobo, China's Nobel Peace Laureate and jailed dissident, would be
released and allowed to travel overseas to be treated for cancer.
Speaking later, Xi praised Hong Kong's outgoing leader, Leung Chun-ying,
who cracked down hard on pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, for his
substantial contributions to the country, "especially safeguarding
"These past five years have not been easy at all," Xi added.
An annual July 1 protest pressing social causes, including a call for
full democracy, is expected to take place after Xi leaves on Saturday.
On Wednesday night, police arrested pro-democracy protesters, some of
whom scrambled up a monument symbolizing the city's handover from
British to Chinese rule.
[For a package of handover stories, http://reut.rs/2sje26J]
HONG KONG "HAS BEEN LIED TO"
Part of the major rift under Chinese rule in Hong Kong has been a push
by activists, including the 2014 street protests, to get China to live
up to a constitutional promise under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the
Basic Law, to allow universal suffrage as an "ultimate aim".
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Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after his arrival at the airport
in Hong Kong, China, ahead of celebrations marking the city's
handover from British to Chinese rule, June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby
"This promise has been shattered under the watchful eyes of the
whole world," organizers of Saturday's planned rally wrote in a
statement. "Hong Kong has been lied to for 20 years. Let's retake
Hong Kong for a real and fully fledged democracy."
A massive security presence is expected with thousands of police
deployed to maintain order as protests simmer.
Xi, on his first visit to Hong Kong as China's president, will
oversee the swearing in of the city's first female leader, Carrie
Lam. He will also visit the local People's Liberation Army garrison
and meet establishment figures. His wife, Peng Liyuan, is expected
to visit a kindergarten and a care home for old people.
The streets of Hong Kong have been festooned with Chinese banners
and paraphernalia, including two huge harbourfront screens carrying
celebratory messages. Upwards of 120,000 youngsters will join China
patriotic activities at a time of growing disillusionment with
Beijing among the city's younger generation.
"We ... just hope our people can live in peace and contentment,"
said Lee Wing-lung, 66, a retired engineer standing opposite the
hotel where Xi is staying, taking snapshots with his phone.
"I hope Hong Kong can have a good and peaceful atmosphere."
Over the past five years, under Xi's tenure as Chinese leader and
amid a ferocious crackdown on dissent on the mainland, the squeeze
on Hong Kong's autonomy has intensified, say some diplomats,
activists and citizens.
"Xi Jinping's visit is a great chance for us to protest against
him," said Law Sui-Yung, 63, a retired primary school teacher, who
watched Xi's arrival on a giant screen in the shopping district of
Causeway Bay with a muted crowd of around 150 people.
"In recent years, especially after he took office, Hong Kong has
seriously deteriorated into one of the mainland (Chinese) cities,"
(Additional reporting by William Ho, Jasper Ng and Doris Huang;
Editing by Nick Macfie)
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