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    Sunday, 2 July 2017

    President Xi Jinping warns Hong Kong not to challenge Beijing's authority

    President Xi Jinping has warned Hong Kong not to challenge Beijing's authority, 20 years after it took back the colony from Britain.
    During a swearing-in ceremony for Hong Kong's new leader, he said any activities threatening China's sovereignty and stability would be 'absolutely impermissible'.
    Thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong to denounce the nation's 'one party rule' as he issued the warning while swearing in Hong Kong's new leader.
    Police blocked roads to stop pro-democracy protesters from getting to the harbour-front venue close to where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to China in the pouring rain in 1997. 
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    In a speech marking two decades since the city became a semi-autonomous Chinese region after its handover from Britain, Xi pledged Beijing's support for the country's 'one country, two systems' blueprint.
    He said Hong Kong had to do more to shore up security and boost patriotic education, in a veiled reference to legislation long-delayed by popular opposition.
    And he appeared to put on notice a new wave of activists pushing for more autonomy or even independence, saying challenges to the power of China's central government and Hong Kong's leaders wouldn't be tolerated.
    '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,' Xi said.
    He also referred to the 'humiliation and sorrow' China suffered during the first Opium War in the early 1840s that led to the ceding of Hong Kong to the British. 


    Modern-day Hong Kong is best known for its sprawl of skyscrapers, a bustling financial hub off the southern coast of mainland China and a regional conduit for trade.
    But the territory was once a quiet backwater of rural hamlets and fishing communities, where mountainous terrain dominated sparse human settlement.  
    Its main harbour became a place to replenish supplies for trading ships plying the maritime silk road between Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, which flourished from around the 7th century.
    Portuguese, Dutch and French traders arrived on the south coast of China in the 1500s and Portugal set up a base in Macau, neighbouring Hong Kong.
    But in the 18th century China imposed restrictions on the Europeans in a bid to contain their influence.
    Britain was angered after an imperial edict banned its trade in opium from India to China, which had led to the spread of addiction.
    In what became known as the First Opium War, Britain attacked Hong Kong in 1840 after Chinese authorities seized a vast haul of the drug.
    To make peace, China agreed to hand over Hong Kong Island to Britain in 1841.
    The Kowloon peninsula followed in 1860 after a second Opium War and Britain extended north into the rural New Territories in 1898, leasing the area for 99 years. 
    Hong Kong was part of the British empire until 1997, when the lease on the New Territories expired and the entire city was handed back to China.
    Under British rule, Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and financial hub boasting one of the world's busiest harbours.
    Anti-colonial sentiment fuelled riots in 1967 which led to some social and political reforms - by the time it was handed back to China, the city had a partially elected legislature and retained an independent judiciary.
    Hong Kong boomed as China opened up its economy from the late 1970s, becoming a gateway between the ascendant power and the rest of the world. 
    After lengthy negotiations, including between Deng Xiaoping and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the future handover of Hong Kong was signed off by the two sides in 1984.
    The Sino-British declaration said Hong Kong would be a 'Special Administrative Region' of China, and would retain its freedoms and way of life for 50 years after the handover date on July 1, 1997.
    While initial fears of a crackdown did not materialise, concerns have grown in recent years that China is tightening its grip.
    Democratic reforms promised in the handover deal have not materialised and young activists calling for self-determination or independence have emerged.

    Hong Kong has been racked by demands for full democracy and, more recently, by calls by some pockets of protesters for independence, a subject that is anathema to Beijing.
    Xi's words were his strongest yet to the city amid concerns over what some perceive as increased meddling by Beijing, illustrated in recent years by the abduction by mainland agents of some Hong Kong booksellers and Beijing's efforts in disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city legislature.
    'It's a more frank and pointed way of dealing with the problems [in Hong Kong],' said former senior Hong Kong government adviser Lau Siu-kai on Hong Kong's Cable Television.
    'The central government's power hasn't been sufficiently respected... they're concerned about this.'
    The tightly choreographed visit was full of pro-China rhetoric amid a virtually unprecedented security lockdown. 
    Xi did not make contact with the people in the street or with any pro-democracy voices, forgoing an opportunity to lower the political heat.
    Under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, the financial hub is guaranteed wide-ranging autonomy for 'at least 50 years' after 1997 under a 'one country, two systems' formula praised by Xi. It also specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal. 

    But Beijing's refusal to grant full democracy triggered nearly three months of street protests in 2014 that at times erupted into violent clashes and posed one of the greatest populist challenges to Beijing in decades.
    Today's protest was 'the most urgent in the past 20 years', according to lawmaker Eddie Chu.
    Some demonstrators marched with yellow umbrellas, a symbol of democratic activism in the city, and held aloft banners denouncing China's Communist 'one party rule'.
    Others criticised China's Foreign Ministry which on Friday said the 'Joint Declaration' with Britain over Hong Kong, a treaty laying the blueprint over how the city would be ruled after 1997, 'no longer has any practical significance'.
    Xi, dressed in a dark suit and striped red tie, addressed a packed hall of mostly pro-Beijing establishment figures, after swearing in Hong Kong's first female leader, Carrie Lam, who was strongly backed by China.
    Lam said she wanted to create a harmonious society and bring down astronomical housing prices that have also sown social discord.
    Lam also pledged to take firm legal action against those who 'undermine' China's sovereignty, security and development interests. 

    Xi hinted that the central government was in favour of Hong Kong introducing 'national security' legislation, a controversial issue that brought nearly half a million people to the streets in protest in 2003 and ultimately forced former leader Tung Chee-hwa to step down.
    A small group of pro-democracy activists near the venue were roughed up by a group of men who smashed up some props in ugly scuffles while surrounded by more than 100 police. 
    Nine democracy protesters, including Joshua Wong and lawmaker 'long hair' Leung Kwok-hung, were bundled into police vans while several pro-China groups remained, cheering loudly and waving red China flags.
    The activists, in a later statement, said the assailants had been 'pro-Beijing triad members'.
    Other protesters unfurled a massive yellow banner, with the words 'I want real universal suffrage', on the waterfront of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, but were later taken away by police.

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