China acted “for the good of Hong Kong” by suppressing pro-democracy protests, Xi Jinping said yesterday, because no country would allow “traitors” to rule.
The Chinese leader made the comments during a trip to Hong Kong – his first outside mainland China in two years – to mark the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover.
In his speech, he defended Beijing’s suppression of any sign of dissent in the city. Under the guise of a national security law imposed in 2020, protests, free media and opposition politicians have now effectively been banned.
“It is a universal rule in the world that political power must be in the hands of patriots,” he told the cavernous hall of people sat on socially distanced banquet chairs, before swearing in the city’s new leader, John Lee – a hawkish former police officer.
“No country or region in the world will allow unpatriotic or even traitorous or treasonous forces and figures to seize power,” he added. “After all the storms, people have learned the hard way that Hong Kong must not be destabilised and cannot afford any chaos.”
He also took a dig at British rule of the territory, which ended in 1997. Twenty-five years after “returning to the motherland”, Hong Kong’s people are finally enjoying “true democracy”, Mr Xi said.
However, Ted Hui, a former opposition lawmaker who fled overseas in 2020 after being arrested, said that was “a lie”.
“As early as the 1970s and 1980s, Hong Kong people had started our own democracy movement, and begun to develop our civil society,” he told AFP. Under British rule the city had never had full democracy, he said, but now “we have lost both the formality and the substance of democracy, particularly after the implementation of the national security law”.
On Thursday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said Britain was “not giving up on Hong Kong”.
“We made a promise to the territory and its people and we intend to keep it, doing all we can to hold China to its commitments,” he said in a video message.
“We simply cannot avoid the fact that for some time now, Beijing has been failing to comply with its obligations,” he added, referring to the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s freedoms until 2047.
Mr Lee, who helped set up Hong Kong’s new National Security Police Division, has pledged to wipe out any opposition in the city.
He has been given a to-do list by Mr Xi to uphold “harmony and stability”.
“The enactment of the National Security Law has allowed Hong Kong to transform from chaos to order,” he said as he formally assumed power from his predecessor, Carrie Lam.
He said: “We won’t let President Xi down. The coming five years will be critical for Hong Kong to develop from order to prosperity.”
In the remote village of Tai O, where homes are built on stilts, fisherman Ng Koon-yau is fine with Beijing being in charge.
“Hong Kong is part of China, and I’ve never thought of moving anywhere else,” said Mr Ng, who came from China’s neighbouring Guangdong province in the 1950s.
“I hope that China will make Hong Kong a better place, where everyone can prosper.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)