Xi Jinping witnesses Beijing’s seal of approval for Hong Kong’s controversial Palace Museum

The ceremony took place after Xi was briefed on progress of work on district and watched performance of Cantonese opera by two singers in traditional costume

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 12:19am

President Xi Jinping oversaw the seal of approval between Beijing and Hong Kong for a controversial museum deal on the first day of his landmark visit to the city.

The collaborative agreement for building Hong Kong’s version of Beijing’s famous Palace Museum was signed as Xi visited the West Kowloon Cultural District arts hub for about half an hour on Thursday afternoon, accompanied by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his incoming successor, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who takes over on July 1.

“The West Kowloon Cultural District has strengthened Hong Kong’s cultural richness. It’s not just a place for sightseeing,” Xi said during the visit.

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He was briefed on the progress of work, including the Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera, which is scheduled to open next year.

The president watched an excerpt of the Cantonese opera, The Legend of the Purple Hairpin, performed by two young singers in traditional costume. Xi shook hands with them and offered words of encouragement.

More than an entertainment venue for the public, Xi said, West Kowloon was a hub for fostering the development of the city’s cultural and creative industries. He also hoped that Hong Kong would continue to pursue cultural exchanges with the mainland.

Xi, along with Leung and Lam, presided over the signing of the museum deal by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who chairs West Kowloon’s governing board, and Beijing Palace Museum director Shan Jixiang.

The proposed museum will span 10,000 square metres and house relics loaned by the Palace Museum in Beijing. It is expected to open in 2022.

A spokesman for the authority running West Kowloon said at least 600 pieces or sets of artefacts would be on loan from the Palace Museum for display at long-term exhibitions. Together with the other artefacts to be displayed at temporary exhibitions, there would be around 900 pieces or sets at any given time.

“It will open up more employment opportunities for our young people who are interested in the museum industry,” the authority’s chief executive, Duncan Pescod, said.

“It will also provide a new experience for those who are interested in cultural studies, archaeology and related subjects, which are not currently available in Hong Kong.”

Controversy over the project erupted last December when Lam, then the city’s No 2 official, announced a surprise HK$3.5 billion deal with Beijing to build the museum at the arts hub.

Critics questioned the lack of public consultation for the project, which will be fully funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and therefore does not require the legislature’s approval.

Lam said at the time that it would be “embarrassing” if a public consultation threw up opposition to the prestige project.

An eight-week consultation was launched in January, which found that 52 per cent of the public was supportive of the project, while 48 per cent were either opposed to it or had no opinion.

Cultural critic Mathias Woo said the deal had “loopholes”.

“The deal stipulates that each of the future exhibitions requires the signing of an agreement of its own, so this agreement is more like another memorandum than a proper agreement,” he said.

Former board member Danny Yung Ning-tsun said: “It’s a small step but a good step. Unfortunately this small step lacking vision has been blown up into an unnecessary political issue.”