25 years ago, the former British crown colony of Hong Kong was handed back to China. The Chinese leadership is also using the anniversary to underpin its tough course and create new personal facts.
Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated adherence to the “one country, two systems” principle on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. It is “such a good system” that there is “no reason at all” to change it, Xi said in a speech in Hong Kong. The principle must also be adhered to in the “long term”. Xi said everything China has done to deal with the former British colony is “for Hong Kong’s benefit.” Hong Kong has enjoyed “true democracy” since being returned to China.
The day before, shortly after his arrival, he made it clear how satisfied Xi is with the result. The metropolis has mastered “major challenges” and has “risen from the ashes,” said the Chinese head of state on his first visit in five years.
Hard hand after protests
Since its return to China on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was supposed to be governed under the “one country, two systems” principle. At the time, Hong Kongers were promised that they would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and many political freedoms by 2047. Two years ago, however, Beijing introduced a strict “security law” in the financial metropolis in response to ongoing anti-government protests.
As the former security chief of the former British crown colony, John Lee implemented this law with all severity and crushed the democracy movement. As part of the anniversary celebrations, he was personally inaugurated as the new Hong Kong head of government by China’s president. In early May, a committee loyal to Beijing appointed Lee as the successor to the outgoing Carrie Lam.
Invisible democracy movement on the anniversary
This year, too, the cityscape was shaped by the Hong Kong leadership’s pro-China line. As in the previous year, the honor guard at the flag ceremony no longer marched in the British manner, but with the goose-step of Chinese soldiers. The previously customary protest marches on this anniversary did not materialize for the third time in a row. The authorities had urgently warned against gatherings. Police officers patrolled large parts of the city center.
On the occasion of the anniversary, the Chinese leadership’s broken promise to the people of Hong Kong was denounced internationally. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lamented the “erosion of autonomy” in Hong Kong. It is now clear that those responsible in Hong Kong and Beijing no longer see “democratic participation, fundamental freedoms, and independent media”, which China had actually promised until 2047, as part of the “one country, two systems” principle. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared the criticism and promised: “We will not give up Hong Kong.”
Renata Alt (FDP), Chairwoman of the Bundestag Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, was also critical. “25 years after Hong Kong was handed over to communist China, it shows how brutally the freedoms and human rights of Hong Kong residents have been betrayed,” Alt said. It is bitter to see how the once democratically governed, vibrant city is now under authoritarian control from Beijing suffocating. Pro-democracy activists must be offered asylum in the EU, Alt demanded.
Strict rules for international companies
The mood is not only gloomy in Hong Kong’s democracy movement. For many companies, too, the metropolis is no longer what it used to be. Foreign chambers of commerce are complaining about the corona measures, which are as strict as on the Chinese mainland. Travel to the once free economic metropolis is no longer possible without lengthy hotel quarantine. Also, Hong Kongers do not come to mainland China without quarantine. At least for President Xi Jinping, these rules did not apply. To protect him and his wife Peng Liyuan from the virus during the celebrations, the around 3,000 Hong Kong guests had to isolate themselves beforehand.