Hong Kong leader warns of potential resistance on anniversary of handover


On the 26th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule, the city’s leader issued a warning about the need to protect against “destructive forces engaging in soft resistance.”

In 1997, Britain transferred the colony to China, implementing a governance model called “one country, two systems,” which granted certain freedoms and a level of autonomy to Hong Kong.

These rights, including the freedom of assembly, distinguished Hong Kong from mainland China, and July 1 traditionally saw demonstrations by the city’s vocal civil society.

However, after massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in 2019, China enacted a broad national security law that, coupled with legal changes placing “patriots” in positions of power, effectively suppressed most forms of dissent in Hong Kong.

During an event commemorating the anniversary, the former security chief-turned-leader, John Lee, remarked that “Hong Kong was currently largely stable but faced opposition from countries opposed to China’s ascent. Lee also emphasized the presence of hidden forces engaged in soft resistance within Hong Kong and urged vigilance and proactive measures to safeguard national security.”

Lee also expressed optimism about Hong Kong’s economic recovery, stating that “the city was on a path to resume normality. Despite the economic setbacks caused by pandemic-related border closures and isolation, Lee commended the government’s efforts in navigating the challenges and instilling confidence and hope.”

He predicted a GDP growth rate of approximately 3.5 to 5.5 percent for 2023.

Lee, responsible for leading Hong Kong’s security response during the 2019 protests, assumed office as the city’s leader on July 1, 2022, with the backing of Beijing and no opposition.

Hong Kong adhered to China’s zero-Covid strategy for nearly three years, even as other economies were reopening. The strict pandemic measures adversely affected businesses and contributed to a significant emigration of talent.

The city also experienced high COVID-19 mortality rates, primarily due to low vaccination rates, particularly among the elderly, when the highly contagious Omicron variant breached its defenses in late 2021.

Unlike previous years, when large-scale marches were held, the streets of Hong Kong remained quiet on the anniversary day, as no applications for public processions were submitted to the police.

Approximately 6,000 police officers were deployed to ensure order throughout the city. Several activists reported being “reminded” by authorities not to organize any protests leading up to or on July 1, with brief conversations taking place in police stations. The activists chose to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals.

Since the implementation of the national security law, numerous opposition figures have been imprisoned, disqualified from office, or forced to leave Hong Kong. Critics, including Western nations, argue that Beijing has disregarded its commitment to preserving Hong Kong’s autonomy. However, officials from both mainland China and Hong Kong maintain that the security law and legal changes were necessary to restore order and assure the preservation of civil liberties.

Local officials attempted to cultivate a celebratory atmosphere for the anniversary by offering restaurant discounts, museum ticket giveaways, and free public transportation.

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