Fri, Jun 30, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Xi arrives in a divided Hong Kong

AFP, HONG KONG

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and his wife, Peng Liyuan, wave as they exit an aircraft after arriving at Hong Kong International Airport yesterday.

Photo: Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday arrived in Hong Kong to mark 20 years since its return to China by Britain, with activists under arrest as authorities sought to avoid embarrassment during anniversary celebrations.

A huge security operation shut down large parts of the normally throbbing territory, with thousands of police deployed to keep away demonstrators angry at Beijing’s tightening grip on the freedoms of nearly 8 million people.

The lockdown reflects Beijing’s concern that nothing should be allowed to taint the high-profile visit, which comes ahead of a key Chinese Communist Party congress later this year that is expected to cement Xi’s position as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation.

More than 20 activists — including Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) and Hong Kong Legislator Nathan Law (羅冠聰) — remained in custody yesterday evening after being arrested for causing a “public nuisance” during a protest on Wednesday night.

Xi’s carefully choreographed trip began with his arrival at Hong Kong International Airport on an Air China (中國國際航空) aircraft, where he emerged holding hands with his wife, singer Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), and was welcomed by a marching band and flag-waving children.

“After nine years I am once again stepping on Hong Kong soil. I feel very happy. Hong Kong has always had a place in my heart,” a smiling Xi said in a brief speech on the tarmac.

China would support Hong Kong’s development and improve people’s livelihoods “as it always has,” he said, but suggested he felt the territory could be doing better by adding that he “sincerely wishes Hong Kong can once again achieve splendor.”

Xi said he wanted to ensure Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” framework, which is enshrined in the handover deal and gives the territory rights unseen on the mainland, “is on a stable, long-lasting path.”

Pro-democracy advocates have said the system is being eroded as Beijing interferes in a range of areas, from politics to education and media.

One reporter shouted to Xi on the tarmac, asking whether he would free Nobel Peace Prize-winning Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who was granted medical parole earlier this week. The question was ignored.

Xi later met unpopular Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), whom he praised for a “firm” handling of the territory and dealing with what he called “accumulated problems.”

He went on to visit the new West Kowloon Cultural District, where children performed Chinese opera and Xi oversaw the signing of an agreement on the development of a branch of Beijing’s Palace Museum.

The project has sparked accusations of cultural brainwashing and a lack of transparency, as Hong Kong residents were not consulted.

Xi and his entourage have taken over two hotels near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Hong Kong Island’s famed waterfront, which is to be the scene of many celebratory events over the next 48 hours.

The area has been cordoned off by giant water-filled barricades and police have said they are taking “counterterrorism security measures” to ensure Xi’s safety.

Xi’s visit is to culminate in the inauguration of Hong Kong chief executive-elect Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), who was appointed by a pro-China committee and is already being cast as a Beijing stooge by critics.

Lam has said she wants to focus on livelihood issues instead of politics, in a territory where the wealth gap is at a record high and many cannot afford decent housing, fueling tensions.

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