Pomp, protests and packed high-speed trains as Hong Kong marks China’s National Day
Leader Carrie Lam calls on Hongkongers to uphold the country’s interests as 60,000 mainlanders pour into the city on a new rail line, but dissenters take to the streets to test the limits of a recent crackdown on separatism
Hong Kong marked China’s National Day with official celebrations, protests challenging a government crackdown on independence advocacy, and a surge of visitors from across the border using the new, high-speed rail service.
The city’s leader also took the opportunity to call on Hongkongers to uphold the country’s “sovereignty, security and development interests”.
Addressing a 4,000-strong gathering of business and political leaders at the annual National Day reception on Monday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor thanked Beijing for supporting her administration’s work in policy areas such as youth development, regional integration, innovation and technology, and trade and commerce.
Speaking a week after the city’s security minister outlawed the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party in an unprecedented ban, Lam did not specifically mention the issue of separatism.
But she said that Beijing’s support in recent years had “created new areas of growth” for Hong Kong’s economy, opened up an even larger market for professional services, and provided more career opportunities for local youths.
Highlighting the “one country, two systems” policy under which Hong Kong enjoys significant autonomy from Beijing, Lam alluded to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech in the city on July 1 last year as she likened the concept of one country to the roots of a tree.
“For a tree to grow and be luxuriant, its roots must run deep and strong,” she said, noting the governing formula was adopted “first and foremost to realise and uphold national unity”.
Uphold China’s national security and development interests, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam tells city in National Day speech
“Today, as we celebrate National Day, let us not forget the original spirit of ‘one country, two systems’ but bear in mind the mission of upholding our country’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Lam continued. “Let us develop jointly and share prosperity with our country and embrace a brighter future together.”
She spoke of this year’s National Day celebrations as “particularly meaningful” as they coincided with the 40th anniversary of China’s opening up and reform movement, and came soon after the commencement of the city’s section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
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Tourism and retail businesses were expecting a boost on Monday, with more than 60,000 mainlanders expected to arrive using the high-speed service.
MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang said that more than 80 trains were in service for the day, and Hong Kong-bound traffic was nearly full.
“Eight days after [the rail link] opened, today should be a peak period,” he said. “My worry is not about having insufficient passengers [in the long term]. My worry is people will say this [West Kowloon] terminus is too small after seven or 10 years.”
National Day celebrations ended with a 23-minute fireworks display over Victoria Harbour at 9pm. “United and harmonious” was the theme of the HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) show.
Not everyone was in a celebratory mood, as activists marked the occasion in the morning with a pro-independence protest march to test the limits of the authorities’ tolerance following the banning of the Hong Kong National Party.
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Chanting “Hong Kong is not China”, a 30-strong group marched from Causeway Bay to government headquarters in Admiralty. Some waved Catalonian flags in a cheeky reference to the Spanish region’s independence movement.
They stopped short of openly supporting the banned party, which could now constitute a criminal offence, as police from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau warned they were monitoring every word and move from independence activists during the march.
The pro-independence activists joined a larger crowd of 1,500 protesting over safety concerns and construction scandals at another major infrastructure project, the Sha Tin-Central rail link.
Counter-protests were held by smaller groups of pro-Beijing activists, and while arguments broke out between opposing protesters along the way, the demonstrations were peaceful on the whole.
However, a government spokesman in the evening said that three security guards had been injured during a stand-off with protesters at a forecourt outside government headquarters. The spokesman expressed regret over the incident but said activities advocating Hong Kong independence on the site would not be tolerated.
Separatism was against the “one country, two systems” policy and the long-term and overall interests of society, he said.