A pro-democracy heckler interrupted a speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) at the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new leader yesterday and tens of thousands of residents marched to protest Chinese rule on the 15th anniversary of the Asian financial hub’s return to Beijing’s control.
The outpouring of discontent underscored rising tensions between the mainland and the territory of 7 million.
While much of the discontent revolves around growing economic inequality and stunted democratic development, Hong Kongers are also upset over what they see as arrogant Chinese behavior — wealthy Chinese taking over retail outlets during flashy Hong Kong shopping trips, for example.
In the ceremony, self-made millionaire Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), 57, became Hong Kong’s third chief executive after Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) and Tung Chee-hwa (董建華).
He has promised to address Hong Kongers’ economic needs, including skyrocketing housing prices, which many blame on deep-pocketed Chinese apartment buyers.
A demonstrator who tried to interrupt Hu as he began his address was bundled away by security officials.
Hu took no notice and continued to read his speech, but the incident marred what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated visit emphasizing strengthened ties between Hong Kong and China.
Leung was chosen as chief executive in March, winning 689 votes from a 1,200-seat committee of business elites who mostly voted according to Beijing’s wishes.
Hong Kong’s 3.4 million registered voters, who can vote for neighborhood councilors and half of all lawmakers, had no say.
In mid-afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters began marching toward the newly built government headquarters complex on Hong Kong Island in sweltering heat, beating drums and waving British colonial flags in a gesture of nostalgia for an era during which democratic rights were limited, but the rule of law was firmly in place.
In his speech, Hu said Hong Kong residents now have more democratic rights and freedoms than ever before — a reminder that China has largely kept the promise it made when it regained the territory from Britain to keep Hong Kong’s political system in place for 50 years.
However, he did little to assuage the feelings of the protesters, who see the rule of the Chinese Communist Party rule as strongly at odds with the values that many inherited from a British-influenced education.
“China’s way of thinking is totally different from ours,” builder Bono Lau, 46 said. “Tung Chee-hwa talked about one country, two systems, but there’s no more of that nowadays.”
Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong will be able to elect its own leader in 2017 and all legislators by 2020 at the earliest, but no roadmap has been laid out.
Calls for democracy have been catalyzed by the stunted election that catapulted Leung to power and by corruption scandals surrounding his predecessor.
Ordinary Hong Kongers fear that the political system in place since 1997 has resulted in the city’s billionaire tycoons having too much influence over senior government officials. Government data now show that income inequality has risen to its highest level in four decades.