China rips up Hong Kong deal 20 years on

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[Always playing with an eye to the long game. *RON*]

Calum MacLeod, The Times, 1 July 2017

President Xi attends ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong KongXINHUA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
President Xi Jinping warned that Beijing would not tolerate any challenge upon its authority in Hong Kong as he swore the city’s new leader this morning morning.

Speaking as a wave of pro-democracy activists prepared to march through the streets, he said: “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.”

China last night ripped up a 50-year treaty signed by Britain to protect the rights of Hong Kong — on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the handover of the territory.

The Times report on the handover
The Chinese foreign ministry said that the Basic Law, an agreement signed by Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang in 1984 to guarantee Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, was a historical document that no longer had any significance. “The Sino-British Joint Declaration is not at all binding,” a spokesman said. “The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong.”

The news will do little to reassure the 7.4 million residents of Hong Kong who fear creeping repression by China into their daily lives. That repression was symbolised by the biggest display of Chinese troops in Hong Kong yesterday, since the 1997 handover.

President Xi, the current Chinese leader, is in Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary ceremony. After he left, thousands of demonstrators marched through the heart of the city to the theme “One Country, Two Systems: a lie for 20 years; retake Hong Kong for a democratic government”.

President Xi Jinping swore in Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Hong Kong’s new leaderJEROME FAVRE/EPA
Clashes between protesters and authorities and pro-Beijing demonstrators took place close to the site where the swearing in took place.

In the rest of China, the marchers would face swift detention and the organisers would be jailed. Hong Kong’s unique formula still maintains civil liberties but some citizens see a lengthening list of broken promises since 1997.

“Our freedoms are shrinking, Beijing has ripped up the Basic Law that governs Hong Kong,” said Simon Wong, 73, a retired businessman who joined pro-democracy supporters outside a police station where 26 activists were held for a sit-in protest this week. They included a politician elected last year in a vote that highlighted growing support not just for greater autonomy but for full independence.

“Hong Kong can’t be independent from China, it lacks the right conditions, but I hope in my lifetime I will see a real election for leader, when everyone can vote,” he said.

Protesters angry at their inability to choose their own leader and speak out freely against Beijing may well recall the solemn expressions on the faces of both Tony Blair and the Prince of Wales as the Union Jack was lowered a little before midnight on June 30, 1997, as Britain’s control over its most successful modern colony ended.

Jiang Zemin, the Chinese president at the time, had pledged hours earlier to help Hong Kong to develop as a democracy, addressing the fears of the six million residents as they moved from a capitalist to a communist regime. That pledge is a long way from having been met.

Carrie Lam, the new chief executive of Hong Kong, is unlikely to reopen the debate on electoral reform that led to the so-called Umbrella Movement protests in 2014. She will focus on livelihood issues in an expensive, deeply unequal city whose residents complain that a flood of cash-rich mainland migrants has made its expensive property even less affordable. She was Beijing’s choice among a small group of China-friendly candidates; Hong Kong voters were not allowed to pick either them or the winner.

Twenty years on, the repression that Hong Kong feared, especially after the crackdown in Tiananmen Square eight years earlier, has not materialised. But the abduction of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 — kidnapped and taken to China for running independent shops that sold works critical of the authorities — is hardly evidence of Mr Jiang’s commitments to democracy. Lord Patten of Barnes, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said this week that the world could not ignore the territory’s push for democracy.

Supporters of the Beijing government were on hand to disrupt protests by democracy campaigners AARON TAM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
China should return to Deng Xiaoping’s blueprint and trust Hong Kong people, Martin Lee, a veteran politician and lawyer, said of the former leader who secured the city’s return. A democratic Hong Kong would help Mr Xi to deal with Taiwan and change global opinion. “Does China want the rest of the world to gang up against it, or feel comfortable about China? Which way does he go?” asked Mr Lee. “Hong Kong could be the answer.”

Kerry Brown, a China expert at Chatham House, said that the mainland’s spectacular rise, becoming the world’s second-largest economy, means that Hong Kong “has diminished in importance over the years to the point that maintaining at least some semblance of ‘one country, two systems’ is almost like an act of charity”.

Business people tout its advantages. “Hong Kong is still China’s most global city. Twenty years on, legal and financial systems continue to function as smoothly and as consistently as any of the world’s other great cities,” said David Putnam, a British businessman based in the city since before 1997.

Beijing’s failure to win hearts and minds is reflected in polls that show few young people identify as Chinese. “I don’t know Hong Kong before 1997 but I feel Hong Kong people are not very close now,” said Jason Lin, 20, a student.

Paintings as protest
On a flyover above a river of demonstrators, Perry Dino, a Hong Kong artist, will today paint another record of his city’s fight for full democracy from the mainland Chinese government (Calum MacLeod writes).

Police may move him on but Mr Dino, 51, promises to stay put, in intense heat, for several hours. “I want the next generation to see Hong Kong’s real history,” he said.

The oil painting will join 80 others made in the past five years that the visual arts teacher will publish as a book, then take abroad away from possible censorship.

The past two decades have left him disappointed in Hong Kong’s leaders and anxious that migrants from the mainland have raised property prices to impossible levels.

“All young people under 30 feel very angry,” he said. “The Umbrella Movement [in 2014] gave them hope but nothing changed. It was an art utopia that will not happen again, a blooming of outdoor Hong Kong art, where there was such peace and love.”

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