A visit by a senior Chinese leader meant to spread goodwill has instead left Hong Kong fuming over the smothering security that locals fear was aimed at muffling the media and protesters.
In the two weeks since the visit, journalists have taken to the street in protest. Professors have taken out newspaper ads and students demanded the police chief resign. Police and local leaders have been raked over in the legislature.
The uproar is the latest clash of cultures between the -controlling, authoritarian government in Beijing and Hong Kong.
“People are very concerned that their freedoms are being undermined. The whole city is angry,” pro-democracy legislator Emily Lau (劉慧卿) said at a heated special meeting of the Legislative Council’s security panel this week.
Sparking the outrage were the security arrangements put on for Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), a rising star in the Chinese leadership. Hong Kong’s vigorous press complained they were kept far away from Li during the few events they were allowed to cover and had to compile their reports from government handouts. A few protesters who dared to get close say they were treated roughly by police officers.
While such tactics are standard procedure in China, Chinese leaders are usually more careful not to alienate freewheeling Hong Kong. Li’s visit was intended to bolster his image — he is expected to become premier in 2013 or sooner — and to show the government’s concern for Hong Kong. He announced measures to give local companies better access to the Chinese market and to promote the territory as a trading center for Chinese yuan.
However, the heavy-handed security has served to heighten concern in Hong Kong that its autonomy is being eroded by a mainland government that does not value the territory’s more freewheeling ways.
“I can understand why people feel unhappy or even angry with the way some of the situations were handled,” Jasper Tsang (曾鈺成), a pro-Beijing legislator and president of the Legislative Council, said on a television talk show on Sunday. “I would say this storm you refer to once again tells us that there’s still a difference between the values held by Hong Kong people and the conceptions, the beliefs of our central government.”
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