By JOE McDONALD – Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will travel to Hong Kong next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China following a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that has heightened unrest. tensions with Washington and Europe.
Xi will attend an anniversary meeting and the first meeting of Chief Executive John Lee’s new government, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday. He gave no indication of how long Xi, who is chairman and general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, will stay, or other details.
Xi has avoided travel outside the Chinese mainland since the coronavirus pandemic began 2½ years ago. His decision to travel to Hong Kong, which has struggled to contain a spike in infections this year, reflects the significance of the anniversary for Xi, who wants to be seen as leading “national rejuvenation” amid a military reinforcement and a more assertive Chinese policy abroad.
The anniversary follows a crackdown led in part by Lee, a former Hong Kong security chief, to crush pro-democracy sentiment. Activists have been sentenced to prison, dozens more arrested and Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy newspaper has been shut down.
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Tighter controls under a national security law imposed in 2020 have prompted some people to leave for Taiwan, Britain and other countries.
It has prompted warnings that the ruling party is ruining Hong Kong’s status as a global trading and financial hub.
Hong Kong, one of Asia’s wealthiest cities and a global business center with thriving film, publishing and other creative industries, reverted to China on July 1, 1997 under of an agreement that promised a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years.
Activists and foreign governments say Beijing has reneged on that pledge. The United States suspended agreements that treated Hong Kong as a separate trading territory, saying the city no longer had enough autonomy from Beijing’s control.
Two years later, the neighboring Portuguese territory of Macau reverted to China in 1999, allowing the ruling party to say it had ended foreign colonialism.
Since Hong Kong’s handover, ordinary citizens of the territory have grappled with soaring costs of living that have inflamed political tensions.
Beijing imposed the national security law in 2020 following protests that erupted over a proposed extradition bill and spread to include demands for more democracy. The territory has banned commemorations of the ruling party’s violent 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
Among those sentenced to prison are Jimmy Lai, a former publisher of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, and the 90-year-old former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen.
The crackdown adds to tension between Beijing and the United States, Europe, Japan and other Asian governments over human rights, Taiwan and disputes with its neighbors over Chinese territorial claims in the South and East China Seas.
Hong Kong’s last British colonial governor, Chris Patten, expressed his grief this month over the crackdown.
“I thought there was a prospect that (China) would keep its word, and I’m sorry there isn’t,” Patten told The Associated Press June 20 in London. “I find it extremely difficult. I believe Hong Kong is a big city, I hope it will be a big city again.
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