HONGKONG: China’s President Xi Jinping warned on Saturday that any challenge to Beijing’s control over Hong Kong crossed a “red line”, as tens of thousands calling for more democracy marched through the city 20 years after it was handed back by Britain.
Xi spoke in a televised address after swearing in new Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who is already being cast by critics as a China stooge in a city where many are angry at Beijing’s tightening grip on the freedoms of its nearly eight million people.
A huge security operation shut down large parts of Hong Kong for Xi’s three-day visit, reflecting Beijing’s concern that there should be no embarrassment ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this year which is expected to cement his position as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation.
Xi said any threat to China’s sovereignty and security or to the power of the central government “crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible”.
He also warned against endangering Hong Kong’s constitution or using the city “to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland”.
The message comes as young activists have emerged calling for self-determination or even full independence for Hong Kong, which has infuriated Beijing.
Just hours after Xi left the city, around 60,000 people marched in central Hong Kong in an annual pro-democracy protest. They also called for the release of cancerstricken Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was given parole earlier this week but remains on the mainland.
Xi insisted that Hong Kong had “more extensive democratic rights and freedoms than at any other time in its history” in his speech and pledged to uphold its semi-autonomous status.
But Beijing’s foreign ministry declared Friday that the document signed by Britain and China which initiated the handover “is no longer relevant”.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration gave Hong Kong rights unseen on the mainland through a “one country, two systems” agreement, lasting 50 years.