Multiple protests have been planned for Zhang Dejiang's three-day visit
Hong Kongers are upset over unmet demands for universal suffrage
These is also a feeling that Beijing is encroaching upon the semi-autonomous city's freedoms
Police might have outnumbered protesters but Hong Kong authorities were taking no chances during a high-profile visit of one of China’s top officials.
Huge crowd-control barriers were erected and police were deployed to the city’s downtown business district Wednesday, as dozens of anti-China protesters threatened disruption to Zhang Dejiang’s three-day visit.
The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top decision-making body, arrived in the semi-autonomous city on Tuesday to attend an economic summit and series of meetings with Hong Kong leaders.
But his visit comes amid a backdrop of political tension between the former British colony – which was returned to China in 1997 – and the central Beijing government.
A crowd gathered to chant slogans and burn posters bearing Zhang’s face near the conference center where he was giving a keynote speech.
They came from a smattering of different campaign groups representing the Umbrella Movement, which led the city’s 2014 “Occupy” protest, civil rights groups, Tibetan independence activists, and members of Falun Gong, a spiritual organization banned in mainland China.
A smaller group of pro-Beijing supporters were also present at the rally.
Worries for Hong Kong’s future
Lingering frustrations exist among some of the city’s seven million residents over unmet demands from Occupy protests for universal suffrage, and decreasing levels of press freedom.
Late last year, claims that China was excessively meddling in Hong Kong affairs grew louder after five booksellers went missing, believed to have been targeted for publishing books critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ahead of Zhang’s visit, the city resorted to gluing down some sidewalk bricks to avoid a repeat of a February riot where angry protesters dug up bricks and lobbed them at police.
Despite city authorities’ efforts to keep tensions at bay, protesters unfurled a large banner on top of one of the city’s peaks that read “I want universal suffrage” while another, en route from the airport read “End of the Communist Party dictatorship.”
Zhang said yesterday on his arrival that he came “with the care and love of the central government and all people in the country for Hong Kong.”
He also brought up his time working in the neighboring province of Guangdong, combating the deadly SARS outbreak.
But his words did little to assuage the dissatisfaction and mistrust – with protesters responding that it was a cover-up of the outbreak in Guangdong during his tenure as a provincial party chief there that led to unnecessary deaths.