President Xi Jinping marks ‘red line’ in warning to Hong Kong on national sovereignty

In a tough speech that also calls for consensus, the president warns that any challenge to Beijing is ‘absolutely impermissible’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 12:37am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 3:45am

President Xi Jinping warned Hong Kong on Saturday not to cross the “red line” of undermining Chinese sovereignty, urging consensus instead of conflict to solve major problems, as he mapped out his clearest, most comprehensive direction for the city.

Wrapping up his landmark three-day visit by swearing in the city’s first female chief executive, ­Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, Xi struck a tough yet tempered tone in his 31-minute speech before a 2,000-strong audience.

He praised the city for its successes but also pointed out the strains it had been under, alluding to the political and social tumult of recent years that has spawned radical dissent and even independence advocacy, to the consternation of Beijing.

Drawing a link between the political tensions in the city and missed opportunities for socio-economic development, Xi warned that the city “cannot afford to be torn apart by reckless moves or internal rift”.

Put national interests first, Xi Jinping tells Hong Kong’s new ruling team

He spoke of the value of the “one country, two systems” model of governing Hong Kong, saying: “It embodies a very important ­tenet, namely, seeking broad ­common ground while allowing for major differences.”

The substitution of “minor” in the original Chinese saying with “major” was seen as a recognition of the city’s problems with a conciliatory message.

“Hong Kong is a plural society. So it comes as no surprise that there are different views and even major differences on some specific issues,” he said.

“However, making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems. Bear in mind the larger interests, communicate in a sensible way and build more consensus: this is the best way to find ­solutions to issues over time.”

While the ‘one country, two systems model’ had worked well, there was a need to understand it better, and Hongkongers would have to “be guided by a strong sense of ‘one country’,” he said. But he stressed that the “two systems” aspect should not be neglected.

“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,” he said. “Hong Kong needs to improve its systems to uphold national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Asked later to respond to suggestions that Xi was paving the way for Hong Kong to enact its long- overdue national security legislation, Lam told reporters: “In view of the huge public controversy about the legislation, detailed analysis and explanation is required. I hope to create a favourable condition to start legislative work in my term of office.”

Hours after Xi left the city for Beijing, thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets for the annual July 1 rally, with one of this year’s themes accusing Beijing of “cheating” the city over “one country, two systems” with its escalating “interference”.

More focus should be given to development. It holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong
President Xi Jinping

Xi highlighted the need to enhance education and awareness on the history and culture of the Chinese nation. The city was facing challenges, he said, as its traditional strengths had begun to wane while new drivers of growth had yet to emerge. “Housing and other issues that affect the daily life of the people have become serious.”

Xi also clarified the legal status of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution providing its rights and freedoms, stressing that it should be viewed as subordinate to China’s constitution.

“We should improve the relevant institutions and mechanisms for implementing the Basic Law and raise public awareness of the constitution and the Basic Law in Hong Kong, particularly among civil servants and the young people,” he said.

In the wake of political animosity over the past five years – culminating in the Occupy protests three years ago over political reform – Xi stressed that the key to addressing Hong Kong’s problems was development, saying it was crucial for the city’s survival.

Annual July 1 pro-democracy march in Hong Kong draws lowest turnout since 2003: police

He also encouraged Hong Kong to seize the mainland’s development for its own gain, saying: “China’s continuous and rapid development over the years provides an invaluable opportunity. It is important to cherish the opportunity, seize it and focus your energy on Hong Kong’s development.

“Currently, more focus should be given to development,” Xi said. “It holds the golden key to resolving various issues in Hong Kong.”

Xi made no mention of political reform, an unfinished goal under the Basic Law. He offered a way forward to those who might not agree with the central government, saying Beijing was prepared to listen as long as they loved the country and loved Hong Kong.