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Chinese President Xi Jinping repeatedly emphasized the advantages of the “one country, two systems” governance model, saying its success has been widely recognized by the international community as he presided over the swearing-in ceremony of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee.
In a landmark speech marking the former British colony’s 25th year under Chinese rule, Xi said, “There is no reason to change such a good governance model, which must be adhered to over the long run.” The Chinese President also praised Hong Kong for its freedom and openness, and said the Asian financial hub had created a world-class business environment.
Hong Kong has won the fight over “winds and storms,” and is steadily striding forward, Xi said. The international financial crisis, Covid-19 outbreaks as well as violent social unrest haven’t stopped the city from its progresses, he added.
The speech echoed Xi’s remarks delivered yesterday after arriving at the West Kowloon railway station, when he said Hong Kong “has been reborn from the ashes” and is “showing vigor and vitality.” The trip to the Asian financial hub marks the Chinese president’s first outside mainland China since January 2020, when the world’s second-largest economy effectively closed its borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and adhere to a strict zero-tolerance approach.
Yet, halfway through Beijing’s 50-year promise to maintain the former British colony’s capitalist system and liberal freedoms, many Hong Kong residents have been expressing their discontent with China’s encroachment into the city’s affairs. Widespread protests emerged in 2014 and 2019 that sought to pressure Beijing to adopt democratic reforms that were promised in the city’s mini-constitution.
Rather than making any meaningful concessions, Beijing adopted a hardline approach that involved imposing a national security law that was used to arrest scores of opposition lawmakers, activists and journalists. Beijing went further by imposing new restrictions on the city’s electoral system that effectively rule out opposition politicians from holding public office.
Hong Kong has also received heavy criticism for its strict Covid control policies that effectively cut itself off from the rest of the world, undermining its attractiveness as an international finance hub.
Hong Kong’s new leader will be under heavy pressure to balance the need to lift travel restrictions against Beijing’s desire to maintain strict pandemic controls. In his own speech delivered in Mandarin, rather than Hong Kong’s native dialect of Cantonese, Lee acknowledged that the city has gone through a series of challenges, such as Covid-19, social unrest and what he describes as external meddling in its affairs. He said the future of the city is intertwined with that of China, and it should be the country’s gateway to the world.
Hong Kong’s economy, in fact, is becoming more intertwined with the mainland’s. The latter has been its largest trading partner since 1985, and it accounted for more than 50% of Hong Kong’s trade (worth almost $700 billion) last year, according to the city’s Trade and Industry Department.
Another area of visible interdependence is the stock exchange. China uses Hong Kong’s financial markets to attract foreign funds. More than half of the 2,565 companies that are currently listed in the Asian financial hub are from the mainland, and they account for almost 80% of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s total market capitalization as well as almost 90% in turnover value.
— With reporting by Yue Wang.