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Hong Kong marks 25th handover anniversary

See Xi Jinping's speech as part of visit to Hong Kong

What we covered

  • July 1 marked the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, the halfway point in Beijing’s 50-year promise of “a high degree of autonomy” for the city under a framework known as “one country, two systems.”
  • Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the city to oversee the ceremonies, in his first trip outside mainland China since the pandemic began in 2020. It was also Xi’s first visit since the introduction of a sweeping national security law that critics say has been used to crush the city’s opposition movement and smother dissent.
  • Xi on Friday swore in Hong Kong’s new Beijing-appointed leader, former security chief and hardline police officer John Lee.
  • Tight security measures for Xi’s visit included a heavy police presence, roadblocks and a ban on drones.
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Our live coverage of Hong Kong’s 25th handover anniversary has ended. For the latest developments read here.

Hong Kong political activists in exile yearn for the city they left behind

Fugitive former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui speaks with the media in this November 18, 2020 photo.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers, many of whom are now living in self-imposed exile abroad, have been sharing their hopes and struggles on the 25th handover anniversary.

Fugitive former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui, now based in Australia, said in a Facebook post Friday that “freedom and rule of law are dead” in Hong Kong.

Hui left the city in 2020 while on bail, dodging charges of perverting the course of justice, access to a computer with dishonest intent, and vandalism — charges he says are politically motivated.

Hui said the anger in his heart “was never extinguished.”

“I feel so strongly about Hong Kong as if I’ve never left: I can’t let go of the place I love, and I can’t let go of my comrades in prison,” he wrote.
“Hong Kong currently has more than 1,000 political prisoners, in addition to a justice system destroyed by the evil national security law, as well as the total annihilation of free press and democratic society.”

Another former lawmaker and prominent activist Nathan Lawwho fled Hong Kong for the United Kingdom in 2020, said the city he once knew has become “unrecognizable.”

The 28-year-old, who helped lead the 2014 Umbrella Movement, lives in self-imposed exile but continues to yearn for his hometown.

During his two years in the UK, he said he has moved houses five times and lived in the constant shadow of anxiety.

“We exist in struggles and in between the cracks: we left to move towards a promised and ideal Hong Kong. After becoming estranged, we look back at the city that retains its glamorous facade, but this ‘new Hong Kong’ has lost its resonances, we are still yearning to go back [to our old Hong Kong],” he said.

Hong Kong activist and Washington-based historian Jeffrey Ngo said the city’s continued fight for democracy rests on its growing diaspora.

With more and more Hong Kong residents opting to emigrate using the British National (Overseas) passport scheme, as well as new immigration pathways laid out by Canada and Australia, Ngo believes the democracy movement needs to be coordinated between those who have left the city.

“Moving forward, [the political movement] will have to be done by people who are prepared to not return to Hong Kong, because the [Hong Kong] national security law claims jurisdiction all around the world,” Ngo told CNN.

Some context: The wording of Hong Kong’s national security law also applies to offenses committed “outside the region” by foreigners who are not residents of Hong Kong or mainland China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping leaves Hong Kong 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan have departed Hong Kong for mainland China after attending the inauguration ceremony of the city’s new Chief Executive John Lee, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported. 

They were seen off by Lee from the city’s West Kowloon train station, which connects Hong Kong to the mainland by high-speed rail.

Crowds waving Chinese flags gathered at the station for their departure, as seen on a live video feed provided by the Hong Kong government. 

Here's how some Hong Kongers are spending the July 1 holiday

A group of about 30 people gathered to hold a Chinese national flag and a patriotic banner with the message "Celebrating the 101st year of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party and the 25th handover anniversary of Hong Kong to the Chinese motherland, from the Hong Kong Hunan Fraternity Association," on July 1.

In Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district, just across the water from where the formal handover anniversary ceremonies were held, a group of about 30 people gathered to hold up the Chinese national flag and a patriotic banner.

Martin Chan, who was accompanied by his wife and two children, was among the group braving the stormy weather to take advantage of the public holiday.

Chan said his children lived through the 2019 anti-government protests but were still too young to understand why they happened.

His 11-year-old daughter said they conduct flag raising ceremonies at her school.

Hong Kong resident Ronald Kwong said his 3-year old daughter recognizes the Chinese national flag and has learned the first few lines of “March of the Volunteers” — the national anthem.

“She’s too young to go to school but she picked it up from watching the daily news channels,” Kwong said as he took his wife, daughter and son for lunch nearby.

Some context: After Beijing imposed the national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, the city’s education authorities issued a set of guidelines for schools to adopt “patriotic education.”

Kindergartens — both private and public — will be expected to instill in their students a greater knowledge of “Chinese history, Chinese culture, and moral education,” which the guidelines say will “gradually build up students’ identity as a Chinese and thus lay the foundation for national security education.”

Beginning at age 6, all students in Hong Kong will receive new lessons aimed at helping them “understand the country’s history and development, the importance of national security, the national flag, national emblem and national anthem.”

Xi Jinping is about to return to mainland China after a flying visit to Hong Kong

Chinese leader Xi Jinping returned to Hong Kong’s West Kowloon rail station on Friday, ready to head back to mainland China after a flying visit to mark the 25th handover anniversary.

Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was there to greet Xi on his arrival to the city on Thursday. Xi was accompanied by Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee as he prepared to leave.

Analysis: John Lee praised Hong Kong's judicial system. But 47 pro-democracy figures face life behind bars

Supporters hold up placards among people queuing up at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for a hearing of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with violating the national security law in Hong Kong on July 8, 2021.

In his inauguration speech Friday, Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee said the city’s judicial system was “the envy of many European and American countries.”

However, since the introduction of a national security law in 2020, the Hong Kong government has cracked down on the city’s pro-democracy groups and opposition figures, raising fears its judiciary and political system could face similar repression.

  • The Hong Kong 47: Forty-seven pro-democracy figures, including activists, elected lawmakers, district councilors and academics between the ages of 23 and 64 were charged with subversion in 2021 and face trial for allegedly violating the city’s national security law. They include prominent activist Joshua Wong and law professor Benny Tai. It’s the city’s largest national security case and most of the defendants are being held in pre-trial detention, having been denied bail. The offense carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
  • Sweeping escalation: Their case marked a sweeping escalation in the application of the national security law, under which previously only a handful of people had been charged and taken to court. Prosecutors had argued in court that the defendants were involved in a “massive and well-organized scheme to subvert the Hong Kong government” by organizing and participating in an unofficial primary election. Such contests are a normal function in democracies around the world, during which political parties select the strongest candidates for an election.
  • Accusations of conspiracy: Hong Kong authorities accused the 47 of conspiring to use the primary to win a majority in the legislature and paralyze the government, potentially forcing the city’s leader to resign. That strategy would be entirely legal — and not out of the ordinary — in parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • National security law: The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison. Cases under the law are handled by a dedicated branch of the Hong Kong police and judges assigned to hear national security cases. Critics of the legislation say it has been used to silence all dissent against the Hong Kong government, which has repeatedly defended the law, saying it restored order to the city following the 2019 protests.

Xi Jinping visits Chinese military garrison in Hong Kong

Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), police told CNN.

His visit comes after presiding over the inauguration ceremony of the city’s new Chief Executive John Lee on Friday.

The PLA maintains a garrison in Hong Kong, but its activities are largely low-profile. Under the Asian financial hub’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, defense and foreign affairs are managed by Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

In January, China appointed a former paramilitary chief, Peng Jingtang, as the new commander of the PLA garrison in Hong Kong, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing the PLA’s spokesman.

New Hong Kong leader promises to boost economy but fails to address Covid restrictions

Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee on Friday vowed to strengthen the city’s advantage as a financial hub and build new industries.

The former British colony’s reputation as an international financial center has been battered during the past two years due to its continued adherence to Beijing’s unbending zero-Covid policies.

At his inauguration speech, delivered in Mandarin, Lee said he would “consolidate” the city’s “inherent advantageous industries.”

Apart from enhancing Hong Kong’s current position in finance and shipping, Lee said his government will also build up the city’s technology and innovation industries.

During his speech, Lee extolled China’s Belt and Road and Greater Bay Area initiatives, which he said have given Hong Kong “unlimited opportunities and unlimited development space.”

Notably, Lee failed to address growing pushback against the city’s controversial Covid policies, or whether his government would look to break from Beijing and loosen restrictions and border controls.

“We will scientifically and precisely control the coronavirus epidemic, strengthen the medical system’s adaptability, and strengthen the care of the elderly and young,” said Lee, who did not provide a timetable for these measures.

Some context: For years, Hong Kong has been seen an important gateway to mainland China and an East-West conduit for global business.

But its future has been called into question by China’s moves to further erode the city’s autonomy — including the introduction of a national security law— and a growing exodus of talent due to rigid Covid rules.

Chinese leader Xi says he has "4 wishes" for Hong Kong

A TV screen shows the live broadcast of China's President Xi Jinping giving a speech following a swearing-in ceremony to inaugurate the city's new leader and government in Hong Kong on Friday July 1.

During his speech marking the 25th anniversary of the handover, Chinese leader Xi Jinping also laid out his “four wishes” for the city’s future as follows:

Enhance the local government: The city’s leader and government should be committed to realizing the “one country, two system” framework and upholding its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, Xi said. He added that public servants should be of a “high moral standard” and dedicated to Hong Kong and helping its people better understand the nation and the world. Continue development: Hong Kong should tap into mainland Chinese initiatives like the Belt and Road overseas infrastructure and development drive, the nation’s 14th five-year plan, and the Greater Bay Area scheme, which aims to connect Hong Kong with hubs in neighboring Guangdong province, according to Xi. It should also bolster international business exchanges and cooperation, he said. Solve social issues: The government should focus on improving people’s livelihoods in areas such education, housing, care for the elderly and job opportunities, Xi said. Protect “harmony and stability”: Hong Kong cannot afford chaos and must focus on development regardless of interference, Xi said, adding that all people, as long as they uphold Hong Kong laws and “one country, two systems,” could contribute to society.

Xi crushed Hong Kong's opposition. Now he claims China handover marked "beginning of true democracy"

Police officers disperse people at the closed Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, on the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday claimed “true democracy” began in Hong Kong 25 years ago when the city was handed over from British to Chinese rule.

“After its return to the motherland, Hong Kong compatriots became masters of their own affairs, Hong Kong people administered Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy, and that was the beginning of true democracy in Hong Kong,” Xi said in a keynote address to Hong Kong officials to mark the anniversary of the handover.

Many would disagree: The Chinese leader’s comments come despite many observers pointing to a substantial erosion of democratic rights in Hong Kong in recent years.

No opposition lawmakers remain in the city’s legislature, while nearly all of the city’s leading pro-democracy figures, including activists and politicians, have either been forced into exile or imprisoned — with dozens of them behind bars. Pro-democracy media outlets have been shuttered, and civil society groups disbanded following the implementation of a national security law.

In his speech, Xi also claimed Hong Kong continues to maintain a “high level of autonomy” as promised under the “one country, two systems” framework, designed to grant that degree of autonomy for 50 years post-handover.

“(The system) has won the full support of over 1.4 billion Chinese people, the unanimous support of Hong Kong and Macao residents, and the universal endorsement of the international community. There is no reason for such a good system to change and it must be maintained for a long time to come,” Xi said.

He stressed that Hong Kong’s stability and its future development would depend on the city being governed by “patriots” and upholding that system.

But critics say that system has already been critically undermined by Beijing’s broad crackdown on civil society, arrests of opposition lawmakers and the imposition of a sweeping national security law that followed the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong has put “an end to chaos and violence,” Xi said, in an apparent reference to that period.

“The next five years will be a crucial period for Hong Kong to break new ground and take a new leap forward. Opportunities and challenges coexist. The opportunities outweigh the challenges,” he said.

Xi Jinping says only "patriots" can govern Hong Kong

Hong Kong's new Chief Executive John Lee walks with China's President Xi Jinping following Xi's speech after a ceremony to inaugurate the city's new leader and government in Hong Kong on July 1.

During his speech to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the city “must be governed by patriots.”

“It is a universal rule in the world that political power must be in the hands of patriots. No country or region in the world will allow unpatriotic or even traitorous or treasonous forces and figures to seize power,” he said.

Some context: Last year, China’s government passed a new law that drastically restricted the right of Hong Kongers to stand for election and reshape the city’s legislature.

The stated goal of the changes was to ensure that only “patriots” govern Hong Kong, a definition which Chinese officials have made clear requires not only loyalty to the country, but loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.

The law expanded Hong Kong’s legislature from 70 to 90 seats, reducing the overall percentage of democratically elected officials. Forty of those are now chosen by a newly empowered, mostly government-appointed Election Committee.

Those hoping to stand for those seats must secure nominations from each of the five sectors of the Election Committee, something which may be impossible for all but a handful of opposition candidates.

Public officials must also swear loyalty oaths and embrace Beijing’s rule over the city.

“Keeping Hong Kong’s governing power firmly in the hands of the patriots is an inevitable requirement for ensuring Hong Kong’s long-term peace and stability, which must not be shaken at any time,” Xi said in his speech Friday.
“To ensure governing power, is to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and the vital interests of its more than 7 million residents.”

John Lee lays out his vision for a "new chapter for Hong Kong"

Supporters pose with Chinese and Hong Kong flags at the Convention Avenue, on the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's handover to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong on July 1.

John Lee has a vision for the city he’s preparing to lead — and its future is tied to mainland China.

The new Hong Kong Chief Executive laid out the goals of his administration during his inauguration speech on Friday, emphasizing the city’s development as an economic and technological hub. Hong Kong’s proximity to the mainland lends it an advantage, he said — access to the mainland market, as well as the ability to act as “a conduit between China and the rest of the world.”

On sending Hong Kongers across the border: “The government will have policies and blueprints for the youth, and we will encourage them to embrace the opportunities available in the Greater Bay Area,” he said, referring to a region connecting Hong Kong, Macao, and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

On education: Lee also said his new government would focus on youth development, and would “optimize education so that schoolchildren will understand China, and understand the rest of the world.”

Throughout his campaign, he vowed to introduce “national identity” education — a controversial proposal that had been introduced by previous administrations, only to be foiled by protests and public pushback, much to Beijing’s frustration. 

On unifying the public: He also vowed to “solve social issues,” and to “create solidarity between the government and the Hong Kong society so we can build a better future” — though did not offer any more details on how he planned to do so.

The protest movements of the past decade — most notably in 2014 and 2019 — have revealed and deepened fissures running through society, and for some, deeply damaged public trust in the Hong Kong government and police force.

Former Chief Executive Carrie Lam had also promised to address these divides during her 2017 inauguration address — to little success, with public trust in the authorities dropping to historic lows during her tenure, according to some polls.

A look back at the secret negotiations that sealed Hong Kong’s future

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, center right, exchange signed copies of the Hong Kong handover agreement to China in Beijing on December 19, 1984.

The two leaders sat several feet apart at a long table covered in green silk. Between them, a tiny twin flagpole bore the standards of the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China.

The crowd behind applauded as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed large red-bound documents with black fountain pens and then shook hands.

With that, on December 19, 1984, the end of more than 150 years of British rule over Hong Kong was sealed and a timeline put in place for China to assume sovereignty over the city on July 1, 1997.

How Hong Kong became a British colony: Following the defeat of the Qing Empire in the first and second opium wars (in 1842 and 1860 respectively), the territories of Hong Kong and Kowloon were ceded to the UK. In 1898, London agreed to lease what became known as the New Territories from the Qing, drastically expanding the amount of land it governed.

Eventually the Qing Empire — and its successors, the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – gave up claims for Hong Kong and Kowloon. But the lease for the New Territories was set to expire on 30 June 1997, raising uncertainty as to what would happen to the rest of the land once the lease was up.

How Hong Kong was handed to China: In 1982, Thatcher visited Beijing, becoming the first UK Prime Minister to enter Communist China, and formally established negotiations on the future of Hong Kong.

London had initially hoped to keep a British administration in the city beyond 1997, thus maintaining significant control even if China held legal sovereignty, according to secret discussions among Thatcher’s cabinet — but Beijing rejected this proposal.

By the time of Thatcher’s visit, the future legality of Hong Kong was starting to come into place, with Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping introducing the idea of “One Country, Two Systems” — promising that the city would retain its limited democratic freedoms, while under Beijing’s sovereign control.

Read more here.

The last time Xi visited Hong Kong, he warned of Beijing's "red line"

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, left, and Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam attend the ceremony of administering the oath for a five-year term in office at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017.

The last time Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong to mark the city’s handover to China was on July 1, 2017 — the 20th anniversary — when he gave a stern warning to the public amid rising political tensions.

Any efforts “to challenge the power” of Beijing were “absolutely impermissible,” Xi said in a speech that emphasized Beijing’s control over the city.
“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security … or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses a red line,” Xi said.

That visit was Xi’s first to the city since he took power in 2013, and came as some Hong Kongers feared Beijing was increasingly encroaching on their autonomy and freedoms.

Xi’s visit came less than three years after the Umbrella Movement paralyzed parts of the city for 79 days in late 2014. The pro-democracy protests left deep rifts in Hong Kong society — and galvanized a new generation of young politicians and activists, many of whom played central roles in the 2019 political crisis before being jailed in the ensuing crackdown.

Take a look back at Xi’s 2017 visit here.

John Lee claims Hong Kong's judicial system is "the envy of many European and American countries"

In his inauguration speech Friday, Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee claimed the city is just as free and advanced as it has always been — and vowed to continue its development, with a focus on greater integration with mainland China.

The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, “protects the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people, protects the independence of the judiciary,” he said, adding that the city’s judicial system was “the envy of many European and American countries.”

He also addressed recent sweeping changes to the city’s electoral laws, which gave the government greater vetting powers, dramatically lessening the public’s ability to vote directly for candidates, and only allowed government-screened “patriots” — those loyal to Beijing and its ruling Communist Party — to stand.

“We have perfected the election process, so patriots can govern Hong Kong,” he said, adding that the new policy was “in line with ‘one country, two systems’” — the model that supposedly grants the city limited democratic freedoms while under Chinese rule.

Some context: Since the introduction of a national security law in 2020, the government has cracked down on the city’s pro-democracy groups and opposition figures, raising fears that the city’s judiciary and political system could face similar repression.

In March, two British judges resigned from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, with one writing in a statement that “the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression.”

Continuing to sit on the court would “risk legitimising oppression,” the judge wrote.

Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly asserted that the city’s freedoms and judicial independence remain intact. Shortly after the two judges resigned, then-Chief Executive Carrie Lam accused the British government of “political manipulation,” adding that all judges were “free from political interference.”

Analysis: The fight for democracy in Hong Kong appears to be over. For now

Since coming to power, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has waged an ideological war against the influence of “Western values” such as constitutional democracy, press freedom, judicial independence and universal human rights — notions that have long been cherished in Hong Kong and formed an integral part of its identity.

The city’s pursuit of full democracy, namely ultimately electing its leader by universal suffrage — a goal written into its mini-constitution, the Basic Law — is especially viewed with suspicion by Beijing, which is worried that a freely elected leader could pose a challenge to its authority.

Umbrella Movement: In 2014, thousands of young protesters occupied key roads in the city’s financial center to demand “true universal suffrage” — rejecting a proposal by China’s parliament to have the candidates vetted in advance by a pro-Beijing committee.

The peaceful protests, known as the “Umbrella Movement,” ended after 79 days, with none of their demands met.

Since then, Beijing has sought to exert more control over Hong Kong. During his first visit to the city as China’s leader in 2017, Xi warned that any efforts to “challenge the power” of the central government were “absolutely impermissible.”

Running out of time: Beijing’s tightening grip only intensified discontent in the city, especially among its younger generation — many of whom fear they are running out of time to fight for democracy before the 2047 deadline for how long things would be nominally allowed to stay the same in the semi-autonomous city.

Some tried to push for change by joining the city’s legislature, but that failed too under increasing pressure from Beijing. A slew of pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified over an oath-taking controversy, while other candidates were barred from standing for office.

2019 protests: Long-running tensions eventually erupted in 2019. Over that summer, peaceful marches against a proposed bill that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China soon snowballed into sometimes violent anti-Beijing protests, plunging the city into months of social unrest and its most tumultuous period since the handover.

National security law: On June 30, 2020, Beijing bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to impose a national security law on the city, which critics say, has been used to crush the its opposition movement, overhaul its electoral system, silence its outspoken media and cripple its once-vibrant civil society. The Hong Kong government has repeatedly defended the law, saying it has restored order to the city following the 2019 protests.

Read the full analysis here.

New Hong Kong leader John Lee says city has "overcome" challenges of the past few years

Hong Kong's new Chief Executive John Lee leaves the podium after giving a speech following a swearing-in ceremony in Hong Kong on Friday, July 1.

In his inauguration speech on Friday, Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee addressed the political and economic upheaval of the past few years — and declared the city had “overcome” all challenges.

“Hong Kong has faced different challenges, including global financial crises, the illegal occupation of Central, and the social unrest in 2019, the foreign interference threatening stability in Hong Kong and the national security of China, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, speaking to a hall of top officials, including Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong’s biggest protests: It was a reference to the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a pro-democracy demonstration that saw protesters occupy parts of the city for 79 days — and the 2019 anti-government protests that formed the biggest political crisis in the city’s history.

“Because of the backing of the central government, the uniqueness of ‘one country, two systems,’ and the self reliance of the Hong Kong people, every time Hong Kong has overcome the challenge and started again, and moved up to a higher level,” Lee said.

He thanked the central Chinese government and the city for “their trust in me,” promising to uphold “one country, two systems” — the framework established in 1997, which gave Hong Kong limited democratic freedoms and autonomy while remaining under Chinese sovereignty.

Some context: Handover negotiations between British and Chinese leaders had included a proviso that “Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle shall remain unchanged for 50 years,” which would be maintained by the “one country, two systems” model.

But in recent years, public fears have grown that the 50-year deadline has arrived early. The 2019 political crisis was shortly followed by a sweeping national security law introduced by Beijing, and a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy opposition groups.

Hong Kong was given 50 years for its freedoms to stay "unchanged." We're halfway to that deadline

Ever since Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule, 2047 has loomed — the deadline for how long things would be nominally allowed to stay the same in the semi-autonomous city.

The United Kingdom had leased most of the land in modern Hong Kong from China in 1898, with the 99-year lease expiring in 1997 — prompting negotiations which eventually led to the city being handed over to Chinese control.

No Hong Kong residents were party to the discussions, nor were they consulted about the final decision, which had a profound effect on their futures and freedoms.

The 50-year count: The agreement, signed by British and Chinese leaders in 1984, included a proviso that “Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”

This would be achieved by a principle called “one country, two systems,” suggested by China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Under this model, Hong Kong would be under Beijing’s sovereignty, while retaining its limited democratic freedoms.

China and Hong Kong’s transformation: In the decades since, as China emerged as a superpower, the Communist Party showed no sign of lessening its grip, with political repression only increasing under leader Xi Jinping.

For many years, Hong Kong enjoyed protected freedoms of speech, assembly, and press, drawing multinational companies into the city and a reputation as China’s “gateway to the West.” It was the only place on Chinese soil allowed to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, or to openly hold pro-democracy protests and demand greater electoral reforms.

But in recent years, public fears have grown that the 50-year deadline has arrived early, as the city faced political upheaval, the introduction of a sweeping national security law by Beijing, and a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy opposition groups.

Read more here.

Chinese state media puts all eyes on Hong Kong

China’s state media has made a clear effort to put all eyes on Hong Kong on Friday and its “promising future” as part of the “motherland.”

State broadcaster CCTV launched special live coverage of the 25th anniversary celebrations and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to the city on Thursday and Friday.

Online, a 25th anniversary banner was splashed across the homepage of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily and Xi’s activities dominated the website of state news agency Xinhua, while stories about the anniversary topped the heavily moderated “hot search” list on China’s microblogging site Weibo.

Headlines and editorials across online news platforms pointed to the “enthusiastic responses” from Hong Kongers to Xi’s “heart-warming remarks” in his speech on Thursday afternoon or highlighted the “shared destinies” of Hong Kong and the mainland.

A People’s Daily editorial highlighted Xi’s reference in his Thursday speech to the “challenges” Hong Kong withstood over the past 25 years, and, like Xi, stressed the success of the “one country, two systems” framework that governs the city in ensuring Hong Kong’s well-being. 

Some context: Critics say that system, by which Hong Kong was guaranteed a “high level of autonomy” for 50 years post-handover, has already been critically undermined by Beijing’s broad crackdown on civil society and the imposition of a sweeping national security law. 

The transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule 25 years ago was a point of significant national pride in the mainland, and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests of 2019 were met with vitriol in the mainland’s increasingly nationalistic public arena, even as coverage of those events was highly censored.  

Hong Kong leader's new social media account signals greater integration with mainland China

John Lee began his tenure as Hong Kong leader on Friday by opening an account on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Lee is the first Hong Kong leader to have opened a Weibo account — an unmistakable signal for greater integration between Hong Kong and mainland China.

The hashtag “John Lee opened a Weibo account” has so far been viewed more than 40 million times.

What John Lee's leadership means for Hong Kong

John Lee, candidate for the upcoming Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's HKSAR sixth-term chief executive election early next month, releases his election manifesto in Hong Kong on April 29.

Even before he was sworn in as Hong Kong leader on Friday, John Lee had made it clear the kind of government he will shape: one with increasingly close ties to mainland China.

At the unveiling of his policy manifesto on April 29, Lee emphasized the need to integrate Hong Kong with other economically important Chinese cities. There was no English translation provided, despite English being one of Hong Kong’s two official languages — in striking contrast to most government events to date.

He also vowed to bolster security legislation and introduce “national identity” education. Both proposals have long been controversial, with previous attempts to introduce legislation foiled by protests and pushback — much to Beijing’s frustration.

Lee has also previously voiced support for a “fake news” law — prompting fears the reins will only tighten on what remains of the city’s media and civil groups. In May, the city’s press freedom ranking plunged to a record low of 148 among 180 locations, compared to its ranking of 73rd in 2019.

Despite this, the outgoing Chief Executive Lam continued to claim that Hong Kong’s media sphere is “as vibrant as ever,” though she warned last week that “media organizations are not above the law … including the national security law.”

Zero-Covid: Lee will also have to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, with patience fraying among many in Hong Kong after more than two years of stringent restrictions in accordance with China’s unbending zero-Covid policy.

At his policy manifesto event, Lee asserted that “at some point (the virus) will be under control,” and that he would design measures to allow businesses to operate.

Read more about John Lee here.

N-95s and no handshakes: Xi is taking no chances with Covid

China's President Xi Jinping, right, stands with Hong Kong's new Chief Executive John Lee after Lee was sworn in as the city's new leader in Hong Kong Friday, July 1.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is taking no chances as he leaves the zero-Covid bubble of mainland China for the first time in more than two years.

After stepping off the train in Hong Kong on Thursday, he exchanged greetings with the city’s outgoing leader Carrie Lam — but didn’t shake her hand.

At the inauguration of new Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee on Friday, Xi stood side by side with the former police officer and security chief — but again, did not shake his hand.

In the massive hall where the ceremony is taking place today, seats are spaced out for social distancing, filled by top officials and hand-picked guests. Everybody is wearing matching N-95 masks — though Lee removed his mask to deliver his first speech as the city’s new leader.

Covid precautions: Under Xi, China stands isolated from the world in pursuing a zero-tolerance approach to the virus that has seen the country’s international borders shut and travel strictly curtailed.

In the almost 900 days since Xi last left the mainland on January 17, 2020, his diplomatic activities have been limited to virtual summits and video conferences, lending particular significance to his Hong Kong trip.

In advance of Xi’s visit, Hong Kong imposed a range of Covid restrictions. As of last week, top officials were forbidden from attending public events and restricted to using private vehicles when commuting. They were also tested daily for Covid, and spent Thursday night in a quarantine hotel before today’s handover ceremony.

A huge security operation surrounds Xi Jinping's visit to Hong Kong

A special unit of the Hong Kong police provides security in the city's Wan Chai district on June 30.

The security in Hong Kong is at unprecedented levels on Friday, with a heavy police presence, roadblocks and a ban on drones.

Taking no chances for protests or disruption as Chinese leader Xi Jinping visits the city, police have shut down areas close to key venues. Pedestrian footbridges, highways and a train station in some of the busiest areas of the city were temporarily closed on Thursday and Friday.

A no-fly zone has been established across the city’s harbor, with drone use restricted throughout Xi’s visit.

Authorities have also heavily restricted media access to the handover celebrations, a far cry from the open reporting environment and freewheeling local press of years past.

According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), at least 10 journalists working for local and international organizations had their applications to cover the events rejected for “security reasons.”

On the ground: In Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district, police presence was heavily visible Friday morning despite the quietness surrounding closed-off areas near the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, where high-profile events are taking place today.

Officers in groups of four patrolled footbridges, sidewalks and subway stations and exits at the commercial districts of Admiralty and Wan Chai.

Meanwhile, a public service announcement reminded passengers that trains will not stop at the Exhibition Centre station “to ensure the public safety” of handover anniversary celebration events.

Hong Kong's new leader John Lee is a hardline former police officer who took on the city's protesters

John Lee, Hong Kong's chief executive-elect speaks with the media during a news conference in Hong Kong on Sunday, June 19.

John Lee, who became the face of Hong Kong’s national security law and who oversaw the arrests of dozens of activists and raids on newsrooms, today replaces outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam as the city’s leader

In what the government billed as an “open, just and honest” election, a largely government-appointed, pro-Beijing committee of 1,461 people appointed Lee the next leader for the city’s 7.5 million residents in a May 8 vote. Lee was the only person in the running, in contrast to previous years that saw run-offs between multiple candidates.

For many, Lee’s ascension speaks volumes about the direction Hong Kong — once world-renowned for its robust press, flourishing civil society and democratic aspirations — is headed. Lee has already indicated that he will look to introduce further national security legislation and possibly a law against fake news.

To Nathan Law, a human rights activist and former local lawmaker now in self-exile in Britain, it seems “very obvious” why Lee is tipped for the role.

“It really signals (authorities) are intensifying that heavy-handed approach to Hong Kong, and putting the so-called national security as their policy for governing the city,” Law said.

Read more about John Lee here.

John Lee sworn in as new Hong Kong leader

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrives at a swearing-in ceremony for Hong Kong's new Chief Executive John Lee, left, in Hong Kong on Friday, July 1.

Former security chief and hardline police officer John Lee has been sworn in as Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. 

Lee was selected from a largely government-appointed, pro-Beijing committee of 1,461 people to be the next leader for the city’s 7.5 million residents in May.

He was the only person in the running, in contrast to previous years that saw run-offs between multiple candidates.

Lee, who begins his five-year term on Friday, has promised to usher in a “new chapter together,” stressing the importance of community and promising to “make Hong Kong a place of hope.”

Xi Jinping kicks off Hong Kong handover anniversary ceremony

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrived for the start of the 25th handover ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Friday to a brass band playing the Chinese national anthem.

Xi will oversee the inauguration of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee today.

China has thrown a media shield around Xi's visit to Hong Kong

Journalists wait at a media position outside the Hong Kong West Kowloon railway station, before the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's handover to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong on June 30.

Journalists from leading international media organizations, including Reuters and CNN, have been barred from covering official ceremonies during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong.

According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), at least 10 reporters working for local and international organizations had their applications to cover the events rejected for “security reasons.”

“With media unable to send journalists on the ground, the HKJA expresses utmost regret over the rigid reporting arrangements made by the authorities for such a major event,” the press group said on Tuesday.

Reuters, Agence France-Press (AFP), and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post were among the outlets whose reporters were blocked from covering the ceremonies, according to the HKJA.

CNN has contacted the media companies for comment. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government said authorities were striking “a balance as far as possible between the need of media work and security requirements.”

Reuters reported that two of its journalists had been barred from covering the handover ceremony and inauguration of incoming Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee. It cited a Reuters spokeswoman as saying the news agency was seeking further information on the matter.

CNN’s application to attend the events was also rejected.

“The government told CNN the police rejected the application but refused to elaborate,” a company spokesperson said. “CNN is disappointed not to attend official events but will continue to report on the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.”
The spokesperson said the Hong Kong government had told CNN that “it would not comment on the accreditation outcome of individual organizations and persons.”

Journalists who had their applications denied would not be able to cover the national flag raising ceremony and the swearing in of Lee, the city’s new leader and former security chief.

The government’s Information Services Department issued invitations to news organizations on June 16, allowing only one journalist per outlet to cover each event.

Covid measures: Each media representative was required to conduct daily PCR tests starting June 26 — before official approval or rejections were issued on June 28 — and to go into hotel quarantine on June 29 as part of coronavirus-related prevention measures.

Read the full story here.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrives in Hong Kong for handover anniversary 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong for the second day of events marking the city’s 25th handover anniversary and the swearing in of its new Beijing-appointed leader, former security chief and police officer John Lee. 

Xi’s motorcade was seen on Friday by a CNN team on the ground after having crossed the city’s border with mainland China, indicating he did not stay the night in Hong Kong.

The Chinese leader is expected to attend the swearing in of the new Chief Executive and make a speech during the inauguration ceremony on Friday.

Tight security measures for Xi’s visit include a heavy police presence, roadblocks and a ban on drones. He is also separated from the public by a “closed loop” system — designed to protect him against Covid-19. 

This visit to Hong Kong marks Xi’s first trip outside mainland China since the start of the pandemic.