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Xi warns HK over ’red line’

Takuma Yoshioka

Jul. 3, 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his first trip to Hong Kong as a president over the weekend. Xi marked the 20th anniversary of the territory's return to Chinese rule. We examine how residents reacted to the event, the changes to Hong Kong's society and the effects they may have on the next generation.

On Saturday, Xi joined some 2,000 political and business figures at a morning ceremony.

It was his first visit to Hong Kong since taking office. The President swore in the territory's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

On the podium, Xi attributed Hong Kong's prosperity to the "one country, two systems" policy.

"People in Hong Kong often say, 'Opportunity never knocks twice at any man's door.' I want you to cherish this opportunity and put all of your energy and focus into economic development," Xi said.

Xi added a warning to the pro-independence movement.

"The relationship between 'one country' and 'two systems' must be understood correctly. Any activity that threatens the nation's sovereignty and security is considered a violation of the rule. It's a line that should not be crossed. We will never tolerate that," he said.

Experts say this comment could mean China wants a security law in Hong Kong to crack down on hostilities towards Beijing.

Tens of thousands of activists hit the streets to demand democratic elections. They want more autonomy under the one-country, two-systems policy.

A pro-Beijing group gathered to oppose them. Its members insisted that Hong Kong has to be on the same page as the rest of China.

The anniversary event and the visit by President Xi clearly brought out strong feelings on both sides.

"There are still conflicting views among the people of Hong Kong," said one resident. "But China is always supporting the territory, and for that reason I believe it will become a better place."

"At the time, the Chinese government promised to implement the 'One Country, Two Systems' policy, but it hasn't kept its word," said another. "As a result, we've been gradually losing our rights."


Hong Kong Bureau Chief Takuma Yoshioka spoke about the event with Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Aiko Doden.

Doden: Takuma, how did local media and residents react to the Chinese President's first visit?

Yoshioka: A Sunday edition of a local paper, published the day after the anniversary, features Xi's move to press authorities in Hong Kong to contain movements which support radical demands such as independence. It also notes Xi's "red line" that cannot be crossed.

Since the handover, Chinese presidents have visited on the anniversary every 5 years. But it's the first time a leader has stressed the "one country", rather than "2 systems".

Xi said that any attempts to threaten the sovereignty and security will never be tolerated.

The response was divided in Hong Kong--some reacted sharply, but others appeared to just accept the reality, in light of the central government's recent tough stance.

Shibuya: Do you feel there is increasing influence from the mainland in Hong Kong's society?

Yoshioka: It is obvious. The mainland has invested in many media companies. Now these companies are quickly becoming pro-Beijing. When we cover even business news, we feel that more analysts refrain from critical comments of China's economy.

Cash inflow from the mainland actually benefits Hong Kong. But there's now a clear gap between those who've profited and those who have not. The Gini coefficient reflects a record high for inequality in income distribution.

Young couples cannot afford to buy housing, which makes it difficult for them to plan for marriage or children. These people -- who are feeling the negative impacts from China -- also have mixed feelings about an increasing number of immigrants arriving from the mainland.


Immigration Affects Lives in HK

28-year-old Victor Lin grew up in Fujian Province.

He came to Hong Kong six years ago to study economics at a graduate school.

Now he works for an insurance company selling investment policies to affluent customers back home. His bosses believe people like Lin can help the firm connect with mainlanders.

Lin earns more than 100,000 US dollars a year, money that he's used to buy a condo in his adopted city.

"No matter which way you go, whether it be from Beijing to Shanghai or to Hong Kong, people are moving to other cities for better opportunities or living standards," he says.

Figures show that the number of mainlanders who have been granted residency in Hong Kong in the past 20 years, plus their children, totals 1.4 million. That is nearly one-fifth of Hong Kong's population.

Many born-and-bred Hong Kong youth have different feelings about their city. Increasingly, they think about leaving.

John Hu runs a company that helps people to migrate overseas. He says inquiries have been increasing by 20 percent each year, and many are from young people who are struggling to get ahead in Hong Kong.

"They would see that if there is no plus sign for them, they may say I will have more opportunities by moving elsewhere," he says.

28-year-old Dixon Man has set his sights on a new life in Australia.

Man knows all about working hard. After university he took a job as a social worker. But years later, he's still sharing a small apartment with his parents and sister.

He wants to get married, but he is worried that he doesn't have a house of his own.

Man says his feelings about Hong Kong changed forever during the pro-democracy protests 3 years ago. He was shocked at the way authorities used force to break up the demonstrations. That was when he lost hope.

"The political situation in Hong Kong is really unstable, and in the future I want to provide a better living environment for my children," he says.

Some worry that their city is becoming more like the mainland and losing its distinctive character in the process.

"It's painful to leave," says man. "It's not easy. But that's life. I have to make this choice."

Two camps and two fundamentally different views of this city. One that sees it a bright new start. The other, a fading star.


Hong Kong Bureau Chief Takuma Yoshioka continued discussing the situation with Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Aiko Doden.

Doden: Takuma, what is the central government's view on the increasing number of immigrants moving to Hong Kong from the mainland?

Yoshioka: The government has capped the daily limit of immigrants to 150 people.

It is not known how permission is granted, but the government of Hong Kong has no right to reject it.

Media, critical of Beijing, warn that the immigration policy is designed to dilute Hong Kong's qualities.

Those originally from Hong Kong may worry about being swallowed up by the mainland.

Shibuya: What's your take on future relations between Hong Kong and the mainland?

Yoshioka: I think the central government aims to turn Hong Kong into an ordinary Chinese city under the control of China's Communist Party, while maintaining its function of a financial center.

Hong Kong only has about 3 percent of the mainland's GDP. It seems inevitable that the territory will gradually be included in the overall Chinese economy.

Hong Kong's "one country, 2 systems" rule will expire in 2047, 50 years after the handover.

It is a growing dilemma for young Hong Kong residents, who will become the core of the city at that time.

Some continue to resist protecting their freedom. And others are even calling for independence. That has alarmed the Chinese leadership. It is pushing Hong Kong's government to enact an ordinance that cracks down on hostilities toward Beijing.

This type of political pressure is expected to grow. Along with that, this type of conflict between the central government and young Hong Kong residents is expected to continue for some time.