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Hong Kong is finally on the “right track”, the city’s leader has said, marking National Day with a promise to improve the economy and people’s livelihoods now that political power is firmly in the hands of those deemed “patriotic” by Beijing.
But Hongkongers must be prepared to safeguard the gains brought by an overhaul of the electoral system and the imposition of the national security law, Beijing mandates that have left the city better positioned to integrate with mainland China, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said.
The city on Friday marked the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China amid a heavy police presence, some isolated and muted protests, and shows of patriotism with authorities and pro-Beijing groups displaying national flags.
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“Hong Kong has truly got on the right track of ‘one country, two systems’ under the double safeguards of the national security law and improved electoral system,” Lam told attendees at a ceremony.
She added that the city was in the “best position” since its return to Chinese rule to “leverage on its unique advantages” and integrate with the country’s development.
Previously, National Day was an occasion when Hong Kong authorities and the pro-establishment camp held various celebrations, while opposition members marched and called for democratic reforms.
But with the coronavirus pandemic raging and the national security law in effect since last June, there was little action, and many residents were busy shopping with the second batch of government consumption vouchers that arrived on Friday.
Outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, a pro-Beijing group celebrated the day by unfurling a 30-metre-long Chinese flag. The education sector organised its own reception, while Lam attended a variety show on Friday night to celebrate the occasion.
Several senior officials visited different communities to talk to residents about government policies.
Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu wrote on his official blog that he felt Hongkongers were keen to celebrate. The Chinese and Hong Kong flags were displayed in various places, including at the Central Market, Tsim Sha Tsui East and Tuen Mun, he added.
Police investigated two reports of suspected flag desecration or criminal damage in Wong Tai Sin soon after 6am on Friday. Officers found a burnt national flag on Fu Mei Street, near Wang Tau Hom Estate. In the second case, a soiled flag was found on the ground by a passer-by. Investigators concluded the flag had landed there after being blown from its pole by the wind.
The force also deployed high-profile patrols in various districts. Many officers wore stab vests after a lone assailant attacked a policeman on July 1 before killing himself.
Under the electoral changes imposed by Beijing, Hong Kong’s Election Committee was expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 seats, while the number of those directly elected was slashed. An opposition camp once able to secure at least 300 seats on the body has been effectively sidelined, with all but one spot on the newly empowered body now filled by Beijing loyalists.
The committee is now responsible not only for selecting the city’s leader, but nominating all candidates for the December 19 Legislative Council poll, and choosing 40 of the legislature’s 90 members.
Last Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry issued what it described as a “criminal record” of the United States’ attempts to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and support anti-China troublemakers, cataloguing more than 100 “violations of basic norms governing international relations”.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po followed just days later with his own report laying the damage done to local businesses by the 2019 protests at the feet of the US.
At Friday’s reception, Lam said Beijing’s document showed the necessity of the security law, while Chan’s report made it clear the city’s strengths as a global financial hub were still intact.
“As long as we all remain steadfast in safeguarding national sovereignty … and ensuring the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’, I am sure Hong Kong enterprises, Hong Kong businessmen and Hong Kong residents will only have more and more opportunities and scope for development on the mainland,” she said.
“This will lend stronger impetus to our city’s economy and bring more diversified career opportunities to our young people.”
Earlier on Friday, Lam and at least 100 guests also attended a flag-raising ceremony outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, where the reception was later conducted.
Those attending the two events included former chief executives Leung Chun-ying and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, top judge Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, and members of Lam’s Executive Council.
Financial chief Paul Chan later posted a photo of himself attending the flag-raising ceremony on his Facebook page.
Mainland officials on hand included: Luo Huining, director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong; Zheng Yanxiong, head of Beijing’s national security office in the city; and Liu Guangyuan, the Chinese foreign ministry’s local commissioner. Luo also conducted a separate flag-raising ceremony at the liaison office.
Former city leader Tung Chee-hwa, 84, had to miss the event as he was not feeling well, a spokesman for his office said.
“Tung wishes that the nation and Hong Kong will continue to be prosperous and stable, that one country, two systems can be implemented in a steadfast manner, and all residents can succeed in everything they do,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, meanwhile, took to her official blog in the morning to praise China’s “impressive achievements” in recent decades.
“Hong Kong must bring out the best of its strengths in order to integrate with the needs of the country, manifesting the principle of ‘joint development, shared prosperity’,” she said.
The Post on Thursday reported that police planned to put 8,000 officers on the streets to ensure National Day events went off in a safe and orderly manner.
Amid that massive security presence, the League of Social Democrats was the only major group to protest on Friday. A handful of core members, including chairwoman Chan Po-ying and activist Tsang Kin-shing, marched from Wan Chai’s Southorn Centre to the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel to call for the release of “political prisoners” jailed under the security law.
Separately, at around 3pm, police slapped 11 men and 10 women in Wong Tai Sin with HK$5,000 fines for breaking social-distancing rules capping public gatherings at four people. The group were seen wearing yellow masks, while some carried figurines of the Pokemon character Psyduck, who is also yellow.
Yellow is the colour associated with supporters of 2019’s anti-government protest movement.
Additional reporting by Victor Ting
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