HONG KONG • Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed there will be no wavering from the implementation of the "one country, two systems" principle even as he acknowledged that there have been new challenges in carrying it out.
This was as groups of Hong Kongers continued to protest yesterday against what they saw as an erosion of their political freedoms that were guaranteed under the framework.
Mr Xi was speaking at a banquet held in his honour on the second day of his visit to the city to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover to China from British colonial rule in 1997.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule under the "one country, two systems" formula enshrined in the Chinese Constitution and the city's mini-Constitution, the Basic Law. It provides for Hong Kongers to govern themselves and to keep their capitalist system and way of life for 50 years.
Mr Xi yesterday said China's forefathers had made, through their courage to explore, a breakthrough with the formula and that succeeding generations should have the "firm resolve" to implement and develop it.
"The road ahead may not be smooth but our commitment to 'one country, two systems' remains unchanged and our resolve remains firm and strong," he added.
At another event earlier yesterday, a meeting with the city's elites, he said: "What Hong Kongers should be concerned about is not whether the 'one country, two systems' principle will be changed, but how to comprehensively and correctly implement it."
He added that the principle accords with the overall and long-term interests of China and Hong Kong.
While noting that the formula's success had been widely acknowledged, he also admitted there had been new challenges and problems in its implementation over the past 20 years. "We have to correctly view and rationally analyse these problems," he said. "The many problems in Hong Kong have their complicated roots in history and the international backdrop, and one cannot make simple explanations, much less take an emotional attitude."
He did not explain what he meant by "emotional attitude".
However, pro-democracy Hong Kongers have been taking to the streets to protest what they believe has been an erosion of the "one country, two systems" framework, with some saying that there is now only "one country, 1.5 systems".
As an example of what they saw as increasing interference in Hong Kong's governance, they cite the central government's interpretations of the Basic Law, including one last year that disqualified two radical, pro-democracy lawmakers from taking their legislative seats.
Some young activists have called for self-determination and even independence from China.
Mr Xi yesterday also attended a military parade at the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Garrison, the largest of the four mounted by the PLA in the city. This has led some to say that it was a show of force to counter such calls.
Despite a security lockdown in the city, with close to 10,000 police officers deployed, at least three pro-democracy groups yesterday held protests to make their voices heard. One group called for the release of pro-democracy lawyer and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was put on medical parole recently for terminal cancer.
Said activist Agnes Lau, 35: "Tomorrow, the President will leave Hong Kong right after the inauguration ceremony. This is our last chance to have our voices heard."
Today, thousands are expected to take part in an annual pro-democracy march to mark the handover.
In the morning, Mr Xi will attend a flag-raising ceremony and the investiture of new Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her government.