Mon, May 01, 2017 - Page 4 News List

HK extravaganza to mark PRC rule

PULLING OUT THE STOPS:The territory plans to spend about US$82 million on everything from art exhibitions to sports tournaments to mark the 20th anniversary

AFP, HONG KONG

A multimillion-dollar program of events in Hong Kong is to mark 20 years since the territory was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain, but critics say the show is out of step with political tensions.

The large-scale celebrations come despite increased concerns over Beijing meddling in the territory and deep political divisions between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy and pro-China camps.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is expected to visit for the July 1 anniversary, with security exercises under way in preparation.

Hundreds of events, from art exhibitions to sports tournaments, will take place between now and the end of the year as part of the festivities, with the government proposing to spend HK$640 million (US$82 million).

Colored lights and rainbow posters already adorn local neighborhoods under the slogan “Together, Progress, Opportunity.”

An official video of Canto pop stars performing a new song, Hong Kong, Our Home, is frequently broadcast on television networks.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) said the celebrations reflected the territory’s “vision of tomorrow,” and aimed to engage all residents.

“The handover to me is historically significant and worth commemorating because Hong Kong is originally a part of China,” a 51-year-old resident who gave his name as Michael said.

Retiree Ah Yu, 76, agreed, saying that the anniversary is “important for Hong Kong because we are all Chinese.”

However, others were skeptical.

“Are we celebrating the fact that we don’t have freedom and have no democracy?” 67-year-old Ales Li said. “Why don’t they use all these resources to mend divisions?”

Some young residents said they felt the celebrations were simply a stunt.

“It isn’t really helpful towards anyone,” university student Miranda Yeung, 20, said. “It’s a great publicity campaign and it looks very exciting for a tourist, but it doesn’t really mean that much.”

Others said the amount of money being spent was a waste in a territory with a yawning wealth gap.

Frustration over a lack of political reform despite mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 has led to the emergence of groups demanding self-determination for Hong Kong or even a full split from China.

That has sparked a backlash from Beijing, with Chinese authorities intervening to effectively bar two democratically elected pro-independence lawmakers from taking up their seats in last year.

There are also concerns Beijing is interfering in other areas.

Some believe a visit to the territory by Xi — his first since coming to power in 2012 — could be incendiary in the current climate.

“The angry people will become more angry,” Yeung said.

Hong Kong’s next leader Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) — hated by pro-democracy activists — will also be sworn in on July 1. She has vowed to heal divisions, but critics say the festivities are unlikely to help.

Art works from the Louvre, Egyptian mummies from the British Museum and an exhibition from Beijing’s Palace Museum will be on show as part of the celebrations. Other events include jiansi tournament — a game where participants kick a shuttlecock about — and a performance by renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang (郎朗).

Political analyst Willy Lam (林和立) of the University of Hong Kong said the festivities were a display for Beijing and a Xi visit would be a red rag to some activists.

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