BEIJING - As Hong Kong reaches the halfway mark of its autonomous status post-British rule, Chinese President Xi Jinping has assured its residents that the “one country, two systems” governance model will not change.
This policy, which allows the city to have its own government, judiciary and financial system, has stood the test of time and “there is no reason to change such a good system”, said the Chinese leader on Friday (July 1) on his first trip out of the mainland in more than two years.
“It must be adhered to in the long run,” Mr Xi told about 1,300 top officials, senior business executives and diplomats at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain.
The city’s sixth-term Chief Executive John Lee was also sworn in, along with key officers from his administration.
While Mr Xi vowed that Beijing will continue to let Hong Kong govern under the “one country, two systems” principle, he also made it clear that China’s sovereignty and security are prerequisites for the city to maintain its capitalist system and autonomy.
And all Hong Kong residents should “consciously respect and safeguard” the socialist system that is fundamental to China.
“The stronger the ‘one country’ principle is, the more obvious the advantages of ‘two systems’ will be,” he said.
Democratic governments and activists have called the model a failure after China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 that has curtailed freedoms once enjoyed by the city.
Beijing also amended electoral rules last year, allowing only pre-screened “patriots” to run for political office.
Just hours ahead of the ceremony, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had criticised China for failing to comply with its obligations when Britain returned Hong Kong after more than 150 years of colonial rule.
Pledging that Britain will not give up on its former colony, Mr Johnson said his country would “do all we can to hold China to its commitments, so that Hong Kong is once again run by the people of Hong Kong, for the people of Hong Kong”.
About 120,000 Hong Kongers and their families have taken up British National Overseas visas that paves the way for citizenship since it was introduced last year.
Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang made similar comments on Friday in Taipei, saying “freedom and democracy have vanished” from Hong Kong.
In 2019, the city was rocked by months of pro-democracy protests that turned violent and led to the swift introduction of the national security legislation that would quell what is deemed crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign organisations.
Since then, Beijing has also tightened conditions for those who can seek elective office, in a bid for greater political control.
Emphasising that patriots must run Hong Kong to maintain its stability, Mr Xi said that no country will allow “unpatriotic or even treasonous forces and figures to hold power”.
Mr Lee also blamed “the interference of external forces” in Hong Kong’s affairs that endangered national security and credited the security law for turning the city “from chaos to governance”.
He promised to solve Hong Kong’s costly housing woes, improve its economy and provide more opportunities to young people - priorities that Mr Xi had also outlined for the new administration in his speech.
It is necessary to “lead young people to deeply understand the development trend of the country and the world, and enhance their national pride and sense of ownership”, said Mr Xi.
Hong Kong’s youth had been the driving force behind the 2019 protests.