Hong Kong marks the 15th anniversary of its handover to China on Sunday, but protests targeting visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will highlight growing misgivings over life under Chinese rule.
The former British colony has reaped great economic rewards since the handover on July 1, 1997, as its finance sector plays banker to China’s boom and its property tycoons cash in on the new wealth of mainland investors.
However, instead of celebrating the relationship, Hong Kongers are expected to take to the streets in their thousands on Sunday to demand greater democracy and rail against Beijing’s meddling in local affairs.
“Civil society is strong and vibrant and vocal, and I guess that is also the product of the attempts to suppress people’s rights,” Democratic Party vice chairwoman Emily Lau (劉慧卿) said. “Because they see the signs, so the people rise up.”
Hu is due to arrive in Hong Kong today to attend official anniversary events as the communist authorities in Beijing stress unity and stability ahead of their own once-in-a-decade leadership change later in the year.
Police have beefed up security ahead of Hu’s visit, after Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) was dogged by a spate of protests during his visit last year while journalists and protesters complained of heavy-handed police treatment.
Under the “one country, two systems” governing arrangement, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region within China, with its own currency and mini-constitution guaranteeing freedoms and liberties not seen in the rest of the country.
People are free to protest and speak their minds, there are no restrictions on the Internet and many lawmakers are directly elected even if the top leader, known as the chief executive, is picked by a pro-Beijing electoral committee.
Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms were on display earlier this month when up to 180,000 people attended a candlelit vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre — a taboo subject in China.
Two weeks ago, thousands more marched through the city center demanding an investigation into the suspicious death of dissident Li Wangyang (李旺陽), a Tiananmen democracy activist who was found hanged in his Chinese hospital ward.
On top of grievances over human rights and democracy, there have also been protests over the widening gap between rich and poor arising from China’s economic influence.
Property prices have surged 95 percent over the past five years and swathes of Hong Kong have turned into luxury shopping playgrounds for cashed-up Chinese.
“The heavy economic dependence on the mainland has exacerbated Hong Kong’s inner contradiction,” Chinese University of Hong Kong history professor Willy Lam (林和立) said.
“The ruling sectors — the government, big business — feel they must not ruffle feathers in Beijing so as to preserve the economic advantages, but the intellectuals and the young people do not feel this way,” he said.
Hong Kong’s median home price is 12.6 times the annual median household income, according to research group Demographia. That compares to a multiple of 3.1 in the US and 5.0 in Britain.
Many Hong Kongers, even those in the upper-middle income bracket, can no longer afford to buy their own apartments. Those on low incomes are being pushed into tiny rooms known as “cubicles.”