Believe in the motherland, China’s leader tells Hong Kong people — and respect its might – Washington Post

 In World
China staged the territory’s largest military parade ever Friday for the benefit of visiting President Xi Jinping, and as a none-too-subtle reminder to its residents of who’s their boss.

China is marking the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule with three days of official celebrations. But many people here are not inclined to join in the fun, believing a promise to grant the territory greater democracy has been broken, and that the values that Hong Kongers hold dear have been steadily eroded in recent years. 

In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for several weeks to demand greater democracy in what became known as the Umbrella Revolution. When those demands were rejected out of hand, some young people began to say the unsayable, and argue that Hong Kong would be better off independent of China.

But Friday’s military parade, and a subsequent speech by Xi, served to underline China’s main argument — that the people of Hong Kong really have no choice but to accept the reality of life as part of a powerful nation under Communist Party rule.

“Greetings comrades,” a stony-faced Xi said as he was driven in an open-top jeep past more than 3,000 People’s Liberation Army troops who are garrisoned here, massed in 20 divisions. “Comrades, you have worked hard.”

“Greetings, Chairman,” the troops bellowed back over and over, saluting Xi in his role as chairman of the country’s military commission — their supreme commander. “Serve the people!”

Behind the troops, the red flags of China flew in the breeze, while tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and air-defense missiles stood in massed array. 

On Chinese state television, anchors and experts gushed over the impressive display of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong and a garrison that has traditionally kept a lower public profile.

But for the people of Hong Kong, the event was also meant to show China’s “resolute power and confidence to combat the separatist movement,” said Edmund Cheng, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. The message, he said, is simple: “Sovereignty is absolute, and the national security threat must and will be handled properly and decisively.”

Later, Xi was in a more rhetorical mood as he delivered an address to the territory’s elite, recalling his emotions 20 years before when Hong Kong returned to China “like a long-separated child coming back to the warm embrace of his mother.”

He told Hong Kongers to believe in themselves as part of a “time-honored” Chinese civilization that under Communist Party leadership has again taken its place as a leading global nation, to believe in Hong Kong with its “free and open economy,” and to believe in the motherland, “which will always give strong backing to Hong Kong.”

“China has made great strides forward: first managing to stand on its own two feet, to becoming prosperous and strong,” he said, calling it the world’s second-largest economy, and the world’s biggest contributor to economic development. “When our country does well, Hong Kong will do even better.”

Under the terms of the handover from British rule, China promised to maintain Hong Kong’s values and way of life for 50 years under a model known as “One Country, Two Systems.” 

The handover July 1, 1997, came just eight years after the Communist Party violently crushed pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the model was supposed to assuage Hong Kongers’ doubts and win their loyalty. It was also seen as a model that might one day attract the island of Taiwan back into the national fold. 

And for the first decade, it seemed to work: Beijing took a hands-off approach, China’s economy boomed and more people here began to describe themselves as citizens of China first and Hong Kong second.

In the past decade, though, the opposite has happened.

Beijing tried to push through a National Security Law, resulting in half a million people taking to the streets to counter a threat to their cherished freedom of speech; it tried to ram through a program of “patriotic education” that only served to politicize high school students; and it reneged on a promise to deliver greater democracy. 

And as Hong Kongers resisted, China responded by becoming ever tougher. 

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