July 1 handover anniversary: Hong Kong can reach new heights with renewed commitment to national security and Beijing support, No 2 official John Lee says

·5-min read

Hong Kong authorities remain committed to safeguarding national security and are confident the city can reach new heights with Beijing’s support, acting chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu has said on the 24th anniversary of its handover from British to Chinese rule.

The new No 2 official, deputising for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor who is in Beijing for the Communist Party’s centenary, also said on Thursday that the “one country, two systems” governing principle for Hong Kong had proven to be the foundation of its success.

Lee told an official reception marking the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover that the central government had over the past 24 years successfully implemented one country, two systems, steering the policy through challenging periods.

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“Even during the ‘black violence’ that started in the latter half of 2019, and when anti-China troublemakers were trying to use the loopholes in our electoral system to paralyse the government and seize power ... the central government remained unswervingly committed to the intentions of one country, two systems,” he said, using a phrase often favoured by the pro-Beijing camp to describe the 2019 anti-government protests.

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Lee, who was promoted to chief secretary last month, said the national security law imposed by Beijing on June 30 last year, which bans acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, ended the chaos in the city while also protecting basic freedoms.

“I must emphasise that it is expressly provided in Article 4 of the national security law that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security. Therefore ... our citizens continue to enjoy freedoms under the law, including freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of demonstration, and more,” he said.

Acting chief executive John Lee delivers his speech in Wan Chai. Photo: Nora Tam
Acting chief executive John Lee delivers his speech in Wan Chai. Photo: Nora Tam

He quoted a June 12 speech by Lam describing the 1997 handover as a major achievement of the Chinese Communist Party.

The former security minister also said the administration had become more confident in Hong Kong’s future after the past four years.

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“In the coming year, we will continue to firmly safeguard national security and improve the implementation of one country, two systems. We will also be pragmatic in tackling various challenges,” he said. “As long as we stay united, Hong Kong will surely move forward and reach new heights.”

Lee’s comments to hundreds of political, business and community leaders attending a reception at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai came shortly after he and other top officials led a flag-raising ceremony at the nearby Golden Bauhinia Square.

Flag-carrying helicopters fly by the July 1 celebrations in Hong Kong. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
Flag-carrying helicopters fly by the July 1 celebrations in Hong Kong. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

While the ceremony was under way, four members from opposition group the League of Social Democrats marched from Wan Chai railway station to the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel near the convention centre. Amid a heavy police presence, they called for the release of activists detained or jailed under the national security law.

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Police have banned traditional anti-government demonstrations citing pandemic restrictions, deploying some 10,000 officers across Hong Kong on Thursday.

The force also closed large sections of Victoria Park, a gathering point for the annual demonstrations, and set roadblocks on major highways, including at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, to check vehicles for any suspicious items.

A League of Social Democrats protest during ceremonies marking Hong Kong’s 24th handover anniversary. Photo: Sam Tsang
A League of Social Democrats protest during ceremonies marking Hong Kong’s 24th handover anniversary. Photo: Sam Tsang

The flag-raising ceremony and reception marked the first time since 1997 that the chief executive was not in the city to oversee official celebrations.

Lam, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung and Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po were among top officials attending the party’s 100th anniversary celebrations in Beijing on Thursday.

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Those at Hong Kong’s flag-raising ceremony and reception included former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Christopher Hui Ching-yu, and Liu Guangyuan, the Chinese foreign ministry’s commissioner in Hong Kong.

The flag-raising ceremony marking the July 1 handover anniversary was held at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
The flag-raising ceremony marking the July 1 handover anniversary was held at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

In the nation’s capital, President Xi Jinping led a ceremony attended by 60,000 people celebrating the founding of the party, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

During his keynote speech, Xi referred specifically to Hong Kong residents as he thanked people from all walks of life for contributing to China’s success.

“The people are the creators of history, and the real heroes. I, on behalf of the party’s central leadership ... express our wholehearted greetings to compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan,” he said.

The 24th anniversary was marked by land, sea and air. Photo: Nora Tam
The 24th anniversary was marked by land, sea and air. Photo: Nora Tam

Championing a “patriots” model of governance, Xi added: “We must comprehensively and accurately implement the principles of one country, two systems – ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong ... with a high degree of autonomy’ – and exercise the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong.”

Referring to both Hong Kong and Macau, Xi said: “We must implement the legal systems and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security in the special administrative regions, and to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests.

“We must also safeguard the social stability of the special administrative regions, as well as the long term prosperity of Hong Kong and Macau.”

The commemoration events came a day after the first anniversary of the introduction of the national security law in Hong Kong.

Police denied three activist groups permission to hold a protest march to coincide with the handover, marking the first time the annual event had not gone ahead since 2003.

The Security Bureau earlier warned residents against taking part in any unauthorised assembly after the activist groups lost their appeal against police’s rejection of their application.

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