By JOE McDONALD – Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — President Xi Jinping will take part in celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China next week, the government said on Saturday, but it’s unclear whether he will visit the former colony. Britain for the highly symbolic event after a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement.
Xi, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, will attend a meeting for the anniversary and inauguration of the Hong Kong government led by the new General Manager John Lee, the official Xinhua news agency said. The announcement gave no further details.
The anniversary is one of the most publicized political events of a year when Xi is widely believed to be trying to break with tradition and give himself a third five-year term as party leader. He has already been China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s and wants to be seen as leading “national rejuvenation” amid a military buildup and a more assertive overseas policy.
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Xi has not traveled outside the Chinese mainland since the coronavirus pandemic began 2½ years ago. Hong Kong is facing a further rise in infections after a flood of cases earlier this year threatened to overwhelm its hospitals.
Lee and his predecessor, Carrie Lam, both released statements thanking Xi for his participation in the anniversary celebrations, but did not say whether he would visit Hong Kong.
The anniversary follows a crackdown led in part by Lee, a former Hong Kong security chief. Activists have been sentenced to prison, dozens more arrested and Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy newspaper has been shut down.
Tighter controls under a national security law imposed in 2020 have made some people leave for Taiwan, Britain and other countries. This has raised fears that the ruling party could ruin Hong Kong’s status as a global trading and financial hub.
Hong Kong, one of Asia’s wealthiest cities and a global business hub with thriving film, publishing and other creative industries, returned to China on July 1, 1997under an agreement that promised a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years.
Activists and foreign governments say Beijing has backtracked on that. The United States suspended agreements that treated Hong Kong as a separate trading territory, saying the city no longer had enough autonomy from Beijing.
Two years after Hong Kong, the neighboring Portuguese territory of Macao also returned 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 sweeping national security legislation in 2020 following protests that erupted over a proposed extradition bill and spread to include demands for more democracy. The territory has banned ruling party commemorations violent repression of 1989 on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Among those sentenced to prison are Jimmy Lai, former publisher of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The 90-year-old former Catholic bishop of Hong Kong JosephZenwas among those arrested.
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.
that of Hong Kong last British colonial governorChris 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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