Hong Kong countdown beacon illuminates fears over China

A new art installation displayed on Hong Kong's tallest building is the latest expression of the city's growing fears that its freedoms are under threat as Beijing tightens it grip. The artwork, which runs down the sides of the harbourfront International Commerce Centre each night for around a minute, is a giant digital countdown to 2047. That year marks the end of an agreement guaranteeing Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status, made when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997. Increasingly frustrated pro-democracy groups are calling for residents to have a say on what happens when the 50-year agreement lapses, with many young campaigners calling for more autonomy, self-determination, or even outright independence. China has dismissed that notion. Activists turned to the idea of a breakaway after mass rallies in 2014 calling for fully free leadership elections -- known as the Umbrella Movement -- failed to win concessions from Beijing. "Since the Umbrella Movement ended in 2014, the frustration towards a halted democracy in the city has been transformed into concerns about, and anxiety towards the fate of Hong Kong in 2047," artists Sampson Wong and Jason Lam said in a statement. "We seek to further highlight the importance of the '2047 issue' and hope that more debates and actions will emerge," they added. "We hope to draw the world's attention to the city's ongoing struggle." The large, glowing white numbers of "Countdown Machine" run almost the entire length of the 484-metre tall ICC skyscraper, counting down the seconds to July 1, 2047 -- the exact date the agreement ends. The art installation kicked off Tuesday, coinciding with the start of a highly charged three-day trip by Zhang Dejiang, a top Chinese official who chairs China's communist-controlled legislature. Zhang stayed at a waterfront hotel diagonally opposite the ICC tower, on the other side of the city's famous Victoria Harbour. The artwork will run until June 22, meaning it overlaps with more key dates for the pro-democracy camp -- the verdicts in ongoing trials of leading activists linked to the 2014 protests and the city's massive June 4 vigil marking the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing. Hong Kong is the only location on Chinese soil to see a major commemoration of the military's brutal crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1989. The 50-year agreement between Britain and China means Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland. But perceived interference from Beijing in a range of areas, from politics to education and media, has led to growing concerns the city's way of life is already disappearing.