Hong Kong cannot afford to be torn apart by internal rift: Chinese President Xi Jinping

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech following the swearing in of Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam as the territory's new leader during a ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, on July 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech on Saturday (July 1) in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule reminded the city's residents that China has sovereignty over their city.

However, he also struck a conciliatory note to the city's pro-democracy residents, saying the central government was ready to talk to anyone holding different political views or position so long as he or she "loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law". The Basic Law is Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

Still, he warned: "Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the
authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR 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."

His comment that any attempt to endanger national sovereignty was not permissible has raised concerns that this will put pressure on the Hong Kong government to enact an anti-subversion law, which is opposed by Hong Kongers as they think it will curtail their freedoms. Other Hong Kongers have expressed disappointment that Mr Xi did not mention the resumption of stalled political reform, according to the nowNEWS channel.

Mr Xi was speaking on Saturday morning at the investiture of the new Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her Cabinet and the celebration of Hong Kong's return to China 20 years ago after more than 150 years of British colonial rule.

He made clear that "one country" is the foundation on which the two separate systems of the mainland and Hong Kong are practised. China has a socialist system while Hong Kong maintains a capitalist system.

"'One Country' is like the roots of a tree. For a tree to grow tall and luxuriant, its roots must run deep and strong," he said, adding: "The concept of 'one country, two systems' was advanced, first and foremost, to realise and uphold national unity."

He also said that both the Chinese Constitution and the city's Basic Law form the constitutional basis of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

The "one country, two systems" principle allows for Hong Kongers to govern themselves with a high degree of autonomy and to keep their capitalist system and way of life.

While acknowledging that in a plural society like Hong Kong's, it was natural to have difference views and major differences on some issues, Mr Xi warned against politicising them or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation.

This was because Hong Kong faced enormous challenges posed by profound changes in the global economic environment and increasingly intense international competition.

"It cannot afford to be torn apart by reckless moves or internal rift," he said, adding that "Hong Kong must be united, work together and help each other, and by so doing, you will ensure the success of Hong Kong, your common home".

Still, he recognised that Hong Kong had yet to build public consensus on some major political and legal issues and that Hong Kongers' identification with the motherland needed boosting.

"It needs to enhance education and raise public awareness of the history and culture of the Chinese nation," he said.

Mr Xi also acknowledged challenges Hong Kong faced economically that needed to be addressed, including housing issues, to meet the expectation of Hong Kongers for a better life.

To do so, he stressed the need to focus on development as "the top priority".

But the message was clear that "one country, two systems" was meant to achieve the goal of China's peaceful resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong as well as that of maintaining the city's status as an international financial, shipping and trading centre in order to spur further growth.

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