- About 11,000 officers will be deployed during Chinese president’s visit as areas of the city are made off limits to the public
Swaths of Hong Kong have been placed under an unprecedented security lockdown as Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in the city to mark 20 years since the UK handed the city back to China.
Mass protests are expected to greet Xi on the 1 July anniversary, an annual tradition amplified by his presence in the city. Prominent Hong Kong democracy activists, including Joshua Wong and lawmaker Nathan Law, were arrested after they staged a sit in the night before Xi’s arrival.
The UK handed Hong Kong back to China on 1 July, 1997, ending over 150 years of colonial rule. The city was allowed to remain autonomous from mainland China, and maintains separate laws, government and freedoms under a framework known as “one country, two systems”.
As Xi touched down on Thursday, he said he wanted to work with “all sectors” of society as he was met by a band of children in red caps, waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags.
“For 20 years the central government has firmly supported Hong Kong, and the central government, as always, will support development and improve the livelihood of Hong Kong people,” Xi said on the tarmac, also greeted by a small contingent of senior officials and cheering supporters. “We will definitely enhance our belief in developing Hong Kong.”
|Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after he arrived at Hong Kong’s airport.|
“Hong Kong has been lied to for 20 years,” organisers of the rally wrote in a statement. “Let’s retake Hong Kong for a real and fully fledged democracy.”
Acts of civil disobedience have already begun as police said they arrested 26 people between the ages of 19 and 61 the night before Xi’s arrival.
Protesters stormed a statue just outside where Xi is set to give a speech to mark the handover, unfurling banners calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer while in prison.
Some in the group climbed on top of the 6-metre high sculpture of a golden bauhinia flower, a gift from Beijing to mark the city’s return to China in 1997, while others sat around the base and chained themselves together.
Dozens of mainland Chinese tourists were bussed in to watch the daily flag lowering ceremony, just beside the statue, and watched with intense interest, mobile phones held high to capture a moment rarely seen in China.
Police dragged Wong off the statue, with four officers carrying him to a police van as he shouted, “Hong Kong people, don’t give up! Protest on 1 July!”
They may miss any planned protest if police apply to have them held longer than the typical 48-hour period allowed by law.
About 11,000 officers, more than a third of the Hong Kong police force, will be deployed during Xi’s visit.
The Chinese president will also swear in Hong Kong’s next leader, Carrie Lam, on Saturday, as well as visit several highly controversial infrastructure projects – including an extension of Beijing’s palace museum and the bridge connecting Hong Kong to mainland China – and inspect troops at the local garrison of the People’s Liberation Army.
The area surrounding Xi’s hotel, the Grand Hyatt, and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the main handover anniversary ceremony will take place, are under complete lockdown, ringed by 2-metre high water-filled barriers.
The police presence is felt everywhere in the area, with officers on nearly every corner.
The government has also blanketed the city with red and yellow banners welcoming Xi and hosting dozens of events to celebrate the occasion. More than 120,000 young people are expected to participate in events marking the handover, as officials try to instil a greater sense of connection with China among Hong Kong’s youth.
But not all events are welcome. Police have banned a planned vigil to “mourn” the demise of the city by the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, accusing the group of violating the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Police have also warned journalists that they will be ejected from any event if “conduct is unrelated to reporting duties”.
“We will not tell you what individual behaviour is permitted and what is not,” chief superintendent Fok Lok-sang said at a press briefing.
“We will look at the overall situation – even if you are just asking questions or doing something else – we will look at the environment and whether the situation is related to reporting or other purposes.”
During the last visit of a Chinese president to Hong Kong in 2012, a reporter was taken away by police after he asked a question about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, a subject banned in China.
Any use of drones above Victoria Harbour, directly beside Xi’s hotel and the convention centre, will be treated as a terrorist act, assistant police commissioner Cheng Yiu-mo added.