Chinese President Xi Jinping will make his first official visit to Hong Kong on Thursday to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China, Chinese state news media Xinhua confirmed.
The visit is expected to be met with massive protests by pro-democracy activists, who have criticized the rising influence of Beijing on Hong Kong’s affairs.
President Xi will stay until July 1, when he will attend a ceremony celebrating the handover anniversary as well as inaugurate the city’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam, who was elected in March. Xi will also visit a garrison of China’s People’s Liberation Army stationed in Hong Kong, according to Hong Kong newspaper The South China Morning Post.
Security is going to be on high alert for Xi’s visit, with more than a third of the city’s 29,000-strong police force expected to be deployed around the clock, according to the Post, in Hong Kong’s largest police operation since the handover in 1997.
Hong Kong security forces have also been undergoing anti-terrorism training drills and riot control exercises in the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary events.
Political slogans and banners are expected to be tightly controlled during Xi’s visit. Local Chinese-language media Ming Pao News reported that images or slogans demanding universal suffrage or commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre would be removed from the sight of Xi’s entourage in order to avoid “embarrassment.”
Planned protests are also feeling a crackdown ahead of Xi’s visit. A pro-democracy rally which has traditionally been held on July 1 on soccer fields in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park was denied the right to use the venue this year. Instead, the space is being given to a pro-Beijing organization, according to rally organizers the Civil Human Rights Front. The activists will be allowed to use an adjacent lawn to gather, although their application to gather more protesters at other locations has been denied.
After the rally, thousands are planning to take to the streets for a march under the slogan “One Country, Two Systems, a lie of 20 years; Democratic self-government, retake Hong Kong.”
When Britain handed Hong Kong to China in 1997 after more than a century of rule, China agreed to a policy of “one country, two systems:” The communist regime would regain sovereignty, but the bustling Asian financial hub would maintain its open economic and political systems.
However, activists have condemned China’s growing encroachment on Hong Kong’s liberties. Five booksellers selling politically sensitive books in Hong Kong disappeared in 2015 before resurfacing under custody in China. After his release, one of the booksellers publicly confirmed he had been abducted by Chinese agents and said he was detained and psychologically tortured.
Protesters have also been calling for universal suffrage in electing Hong Kong’s government leader. The chief executive, the highest office in Hong Kong, is chosen by a 1,200-person committee, with candidates subject to Beijing’s approval. The winner of the election in March, Carrie Lam, was favored by Beijing and critics have called her a puppet of the mainland government.
A wave of pro-democracy protests in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement shut down streets in central Hong Kong for 79 days and sparked clashes between student protesters and security forces. The movement’s leaders have vowed to keep up the fight for greater autonomy from Beijing.
“What we worry about is one country, two systems turning into ‘one country, 1.5 systems,’ or finally ‘one country, one system,'” Umbrella Movement leader Joshua Wong told USA Today in March. “China has its own definition of democracy, but in fact it’s totally against rule of law and judicial independence. So that will be a nightmare for us.”
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