Xi Jinping’s rallying cry to Hong Kong: Believe in yourselves, your city and your country
President acknowledges city’s problems but calls for rational rather than emotional approach to solving them
President Xi Jinping has appealed to Hongkongers to believe in themselves, their city and their country, acknowledging many problems but promising support to overcome them and unwavering determination to uphold the “one country, two systems” policy.
Xi conceded yesterday that “problems” had arisen from the unique political model that has governed Hong Kong since its handover to Chinese sovereign in 1997, but he urged people to analyse and resolve them “rationally”.
The messages were delivered in two speeches when he met Hong Kong’s business, political and social elite on the second day of his three-day visit to join the handover celebrations and swear in a new government today.
The day also saw Xi inspect the biggest parade by the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong since the handover, symbolic in showcasing the nation’s military might and reflecting the importance of the city in Beijing’s eyes.
When he ceremonially greeted the troops, their reply was an unprecedented “hello, chairman” instead of the traditional “hello, leader”, a reference to his position as the head of China’s armed forces.
Activists staged several protests over varying demands, including universal suffrage, but a total security lockdown kept them well away from the president and a pro-independence group was forced to cancel a planned assembly after a police ban.
Addressing a group of around 200, including tycoons, business leaders, heads of public-service organisations and pro-establishment politicians in the afternoon, Xi noted Hong Kong had faced “new situations, problems and challenges” in implementing one country, two systems over the years.
“We have to understand the complex historical roots and international background behind Hong Kong’s many problems,” he said. “We must not generalise on the causes, nor must we respond emotionally. The problems are not frightening – the key is to find solutions.”
Xi said he could not think of “any other politically wiser” model than the current one, adding: “For Hong Kong, the question it should care about is not whether one country, two systems will change, but how to implement the principle comprehensively and accurately, and push for the city to achieve prosperous development.”
He reminded community representatives at the gathering to take up leading roles in four areas of work: support Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who will be sworn in as chief executive today; unite society to create harmony and unite patriotic forces; groom the younger generation to “love the country, love Hong Kong” and continue to contribute to one country, two systems; and promote Hong Kong’s co-operation and exchanges with the mainland.
Xi painted a rosy picture when addressing a wider audience of around 300, including some opposition legislators, at the official handover banquet at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Multiple indicators of governance, such as administrative effectiveness and rule of law, were much higher than they were before Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, he said.
Asking the people to have confidence and “believe in themselves, in Hong Kong and in the country,” the president promised Beijing’s “unwavering” determination to keep the one country, two systems policy going.
While noting the nation’s “strong backing” for Hong Kong, Xi put special emphasis on Hongkongers’ own competence and wisdom in transforming a nameless fishing village into a modern metropolis.
“What is key to Hong Kong’s success … is the hard work of generations of Hong Kong compatriots.”
For the city to achieve greater success, he added, the key lay in development and the economy – he did not mention political changes or democratisation.
“Only by consolidating and enhancing [Hong Kong’s systematic] advantages can it retain and attract talent,” he said.
He urged the city to grasp new regional opportunities, such as China’s Belt and Road initiative to open up international trade along a new Silk Route and the Bond Connect scheme. The latter, announced yesterday, is a new carrot offered to Hong Kong, which will commence next Monday and use the city as the staging point to allow foreign investors access to China’s interbank bond market.
Shortly before the banquet, heads of the city’s two major pan-democratic parties were received by a Beijing official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, to whom they passed on petition letters listing their demands for greater democracy and the release of political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, who is out on medical parole.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, who was invited to the banquet, noted Xi’s positivity regarding the city’s future but he was worried that Xi had only listened to one-sided views and misunderstood the true situation. “Hong Kong needs more than economic development – we need to safeguard our core values,” he said.
Lau Siu-kai, a former policy adviser who now heads a think tank , said Xi had conveyed a hardline approach despite the softer tone.
“Xi was trying to deepen Hongkongers’ sense of the nation and nationality,” Lau said. “By painting a beautiful picture of co-prosperity, Xi means that Hong Kong cannot develop in any way if it’s not connected to China.”
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung