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China marks Hong Kong handover date amid freedom claims

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has officiated at the swearing-in ceremony of Hong Kong’s new leader, a former security official who oversaw the crackdown on protests, as Taiwan’s Premier said Hong Kong had lost its freedom.

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Hong Kong’s new chief executive John Lee, a former security official who oversaw the crackdown on dissent in the city since 2019 pro-democracy protests, pledged to uphold the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and bear allegiance to Hong Kong.

He also pledged to be accountable to the central government in Beijing.

Xi told well-wishers on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the British to China that it had been ‘reborn from the ashes’ with ‘vigorous vitality’.

The comment was an apparent allusion to the 2019 pro-democracy protests, which were followed by a sweeping crackdown on dissent that has transformed the economic hub once known for its political and civic freedoms.

Xi last visited Hong Kong in 2017 for the July 1 celebrations, during which he warned that there would be no tolerance for any activities seen as threatening China’s sovereignty and stability.

The months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 were seen by China’s ruling Communist Party as just such a threat, and Xi in remarks Thursday evening praised former leader Carrie Lam for ending chaos that had gripped the city and ensuring that only ‘patriots’ would rule Hong Kong.

Since the protests, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities drafted a national security law that was then used to arrest scores of activists, media figures and democracy supporters; introduced a more ‘patriotic’ curriculum in schools; and revamped election laws to keep opposition politicians out of the city’s Legislature.

The changes have all but eliminated dissenting voices in the city and have driven many to leave.

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-Chang said promises that life would go on as normal for Hong Kong after the handover had not been kept.

“It’s only been 25 years, and in the past the promise was 50 years of no change,” he said.

“The ‘dancing will go on and horses still run’ has disappeared, and even freedom and democracy have vanished,” he added, referring to a Hong Kong expression about how life would not change under Chinese rule.

“We also know that we must hold fast to Taiwan’s sovereignty, freedom and democracy,” Su added. “China’s so-called ‘one country, two systems’ has simply not stood up to the test.”

The imposition of a harsh national security law after anti-government protests in Hong Kong has been widely condemned in democratic Taiwan. Beijing and the Hong Kong government say the law was necessary to restore stability to the city.

Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees wide-ranging autonomy and judicial independence not seen in mainland China.

China has been stepping up its military and political pressure to get Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan’s government says only the island’s people can decide their future.

-with AAP

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