By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, Jul 1 (EFE).- Tight security, road closures, pouring rain and Xi Jinping’s whirlwind visit characterized life in Hong Kong in the last 48 hours or so, as the former British colony marked the 25th anniversary of its handover to China Friday.
On July 1, which also marked Hong Kong’s halfway point in Beijing’s 50-year promise to maintain its liberal freedoms after the handover, Hongkongers woke up to Chinese president Xi’s reassurance that the “one country, two systems” governance model would not change.
At around 10.15 (GMT 02.15), Xi, his entourage, and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing elite gathered at the grand Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai to inaugurate the city’s new leader John Lee and his government.
Delivering a speech, Xi said the “one country, two systems”, a constitutional principle formulated by Communist-ruled China for governing post-1997 Hong Kong, was successful under China’s “comprehensive jurisdiction.”
“For this kind of good system, there is no reason at all to change it. It must be maintained over the long term,” he said.
The visiting Chinese leader also praised the Asian financial city for its “freedom” and “world-class business environment,” and that the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” had to be upheld and the city’s “unique position and advantages” maintained.
He remarked that Hong Kong had experienced “wind and rain” and “must not become chaotic again”
During the ceremony, Lee, who in May won 99% of votes in a so-called “small circle” election to become the city’s new chief executive, took the oath of office together with his cabinet and the new Executive Council members.
A former policeman and ex-security minister sanctioned by the US for allegedly “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” Lee vowed to “accurately implement the ‘one country, two systems’” principle.
Speaking in Mandarin, the official language of mainland China, the 64-year-old new Hong Kong leader also promised to “safeguard our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests, and to ensure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”
Two hours earlier, Lee and outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam observed a flag-raising ceremony in a square near the harbor-side exhibition center to mark the handover. More than 200 guests also attended the ceremony, amid strong winds brought by an approaching typhoon.
Covid-19 concerns apparently loomed large, especially over the visit of Xi, who until Thursday had not stepped foot outside mainland China since the pandemic broke out there around January 2020.
Infection figures in Hong Kong have been rising in recent days and surpassing 2,000 on Wednesday, although most cases involved mild symptoms.
Over the past months, speculation had been rife over whether Xi would travel to Hong Kong to attend the ceremony Friday. It was not until last Saturday that his visit was confirmed by China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.
Caution was the order of the day for Xi and his soprano wife Peng Liyuan. When arriving in Hong Kong by high-speed train Thursday afternoon, they wore a face mask and did not shake hands with the Hong Kong officials receiving them.
Xi then headed to the Science and Technology Parks and Peng a Chinese opera center, before attending a dinner hosted by Lam.
In an unusual arrangement, the two crossed the border again after the banquet to stay overnight in the mainland city of Shenzhen, instead of spending the night in a Hong Kong hotel as they did on their last visit in 2017. They returned to the city this morning.
Security in various parts of Hong Kong was tightened in the lead-up to Xi’s arrival. Police sealed off roads and footbridges and put up water-filled barriers in areas where Xi visited or passed by.
Hotels around the Wan Chai exhibition center were booked out by the government. Some officials were required to go into hotel quarantine this week.