Wednesday 13 November 2019

Mass protest over tightening of China rule in Hong Kong

Clashes as China's President Xi Jinping warns of 'red line' in speech to mark 20 years since Britain left Asian city

Something's cooking: A protester in Hong Kong holds a wok-shaped artwork with pictures showing the faces of Chinese politicians including Chinese president Xi Jinping. Photo: AFP/Getty
Something's cooking: A protester in Hong Kong holds a wok-shaped artwork with pictures showing the faces of Chinese politicians including Chinese president Xi Jinping. Photo: AFP/Getty

Neil Connor

President Xi Jinping of China evoked his country's "humiliation" at the hands of British imperialists yesterday, as he warned against "impermissible" challenges to Beijing's authority over Hong Kong.

President Xi was speaking in the former British colony on the 20th anniversary of its return to China, as thousands of people gathered for a mass demonstration against Beijing's tightening grip in the city.

In a sweeping speech in which the Chinese leader warned opponents in Hong Kong not to cross a "red line", Mr Xi recalled how Britain's victory in the First Opium War of 1839-42 - when Hong Kong Island was ceded to the British Empire - set in motion decades of humiliation for China.

"After the Opium War, China has been repeatedly defeated by countries which were smaller and less populous," Mr Xi said. He spoke after swearing in Carrie Lam, the new leader of Hong Kong, at a venue only yards from where former governor Chris Patten tearfully handed back the territory in 1997.

Mr Xi also said Hong Kong should do more to boost "patriotic education", which has been opposed by local ­residents who fear losing their identity.

The Chinese President was speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Hong Kong, a city which has freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland under a principle known as "one country, two systems".

Campaigners believe such rights are being eroded by China. The city's colourful grassroots political scene was on show on the streets around Hong Kong's Causeway Bay area before the march set off from the nearby Victoria Park.

Among the most obscure groups seeking support was the Hong Kong-UK Reunification Campaign, which is seeking to "urge the UK to resume British sovereignty over Hong Kong". Elsewhere, a placard showing support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was spotted in the crowd.

Many of the marchers held yellow umbrellas, a symbol of mass protests in 2014 which brought the city to a standstill.

Other marchers carried placards with slogans branding Ms Lam, Hong Kong's new chief executive, a Communist Party stooge, or similar insulting posters featuring the city's outgoing leader CY Leung.

The Chinese president had a stern warning towards those expressing opposition to Beijing's rule. "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 against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible," Mr Xi said.

The Chinese President's strong words came a day after Beijing said the joint declaration, a treaty signed by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 that supposedly guarantees Hong Kong's unique rights until 2047, had "no practical significance".

The remarks prompted a sharp response last Friday from Britain, which said it was "committed to monitoring its implementation closely".

Democracy activists in Hong Kong also called on Britain to live up to promises it made under the treaty.

Nathan Law, a protest leader who was elected to Hong Kong's parliament last year, told newspapers: "The Chinese government is trying to erase the duty of responsibility that Britain has.

"It is their duty to monitor the implementation of the joint declaration and they should do it in accordance with their promises in that treaty."

Mr Law is one of the leaders of the Demosisto party, which staged a demonstration along with other pro-democracy groups yesterday that resulted in violent scuffles with police and pro-Beijing counter protesters.

Joshua Wong, another Demostiso leader and the face of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, was briefly detained by police during the flare-up.

Journalists witnessed Mr Wong and other activists attempting to march to a flag-raising ceremony, which was being attended by Mr Xi. They were confronted by a group of protesters who were waving Chinese flags and shouting "Joshua Wong: Traitor", and, "Long live the Communist Party of China".

The pro-democracy group replied by shouting back, "Communist Party Triads", but their protest was halted by the angry pro-China mob and police.

Despite the setback and Mr Xi's warning over a "red line" for activists, Mr Law has vowed that he will continue his campaigning.

"The red line is movable," he said. "It is there to serve Beijing's political needs, but we fight for democracy, and that is a fight that is unstoppable."

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