China’s president visits Hong Kong 25 years after the end of British rule

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong to lead official celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the territory’s handover from Britain to China. Over the last three years, Hong Kong’s authorities now say it marks the start of a brighter future for the city, after years of social unrest and COVID-19 challenges. Richard Kimber reports on how the celebrations are leaving the city divided.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    China's President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong, as we reported, to lead official celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the territory's handover from Britain to China.

    Over the last three years, Beijing has cracked down on Hong Kong's once-vibrant political scene, amid global criticism. Hong Kong's authorities now say it marks the start of a brighter future for the city, after years of social unrest and COVID-19 challenges.

    But many locals say it highlights how much Hong Kong has changed, for the worse.

    Special correspondent Richard Kimber sent this report on how the day's celebrations are leaving the city divided.

  • Richard Kimber:

    A fanfare and a flyover to consolidate Hong Kong's future under Chinese rule, presiding it over it all, the man in charge.

  • Xi Jinping, Chinese President (through translator):

    After experiencing ups and downs, everyone can painfully feel that Hong Kong cannot be chaotic and must not become chaotic again. I feel more deeply that the development of Hong Kong cannot be delayed any longer. We must eliminate all interference and concentrate on development.

  • Richard Kimber:

    It's the first time President Xi Jinping has left the Chinese mainland since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a short journey, but symbolically huge.

    John Burns, University of Hong Kong: I think he's telling the people of Hong Kong that the central government cares about Hong Kong. He's also telling the officials here to implement this new central government agenda.

  • Richard Kimber:

    Top of that agenda, announcing that the one-country/two-systems policy of governing Hong Kong will stay in place and inaugurating Hong Kong's former security chief as the city's new leader.

  • John Lee, Hong Kong Chief Executive (through translator):

    With the enactment and implementation of the national security law, Hong Kong has been able to restore order from chaos, and the improvement of the electoral system has enabled the implementation of the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong.

  • Richard Kimber:

    Lee was the only candidate in the chief executive race and was voted in by a committee stacked with pro-China loyalists. He will take charge of a legislature with almost no political opposition, after Beijing imposed sweeping changes after months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019.

    Widespread arrests of democracy activists followed, then the introduction of a controversial national security law and increasing social division.

  • Andrew Leung, Independent China Strategist:

    I think we have seen this story before when Hong Kong first handover. So, for some, it is a period of — from instability to stability, looking forward to a brighter future, for others, still a sense of foreboding.

  • Richard Kimber:

    The government says that stability will bring prosperity and opportunity for all. That's been welcomed by many in the business community, but not everyone shares that optimism.

    The recent political changes have become too much to bear for many families. Though they have never been to the United Kingdom before, this family will emigrate there in a few weeks. They wanted to remain anonymous for this report.

  • Person (through translator):

    Everything we have family, friends and work, are all here. It took a lot of struggle to make this decision.

  • Richard Kimber:

    One concern is their son's education. Officials in Beijing have blamed Hong Kong schools for fostering dissent among students. Under new rules, children must take classes on national security and sing China's national anthem to mark important holidays.

    New textbooks will claim that Hong Kong was never a British colony, regardless of the history, and that the protest movements were caused by foreign forces.

  • Person (through translator):

    I studied in Hong Kong myself. And what is happening now is that the authorities have changed everything we learned in the past into something new. They only teach you what they want you to know. It's brainwashing the kids. They won't teach you the real history.

  • Richard Kimber:

    Almost 100,000 Hong Kong residents left here in 2020. Many took advantage of citizenship programs offered in response to Beijing's political reforms. That's led to concerns about a brain drain in the city.

    But local pro-government groups say there's nothing to worry about.

  • Innes Tang, Politihk Social Strategic:

    Some people unhappy here, they move. They just go on, go to other countries.

    It means the last conflict in Hong Kong. So you make everybody happier and more stable and more focused on making our life better in Hong Kong. So it's not a bad thing. And I think it's good for everybody.

  • Richard Kimber:

    But that's not the only reason Hong Kong is facing a potential exodus.

    International finance groups say that the government's insistence on maintaining strict COVID-19 policies, including mandatory hotel quarantine for new arrivals into the city, is making the process of doing international business here increasingly difficult.

    A survey from the American Chamber of Commerce found that more than half its business leader members were considering leaving Hong Kong because of the COVID rules. Hong Kong's new leader, John Lee, says he's working on a strategy to reopen the borders. But there are concerns that China's own zero COVID policy will mean he won't have the power to call the shots.

  • John Burns:

    He has very little autonomy. John Lee is the creature of the central government when it comes to this. He is highly dependent on the central government for other things as well, but, on this, on the COVID thing, I think he well — he will take orders from the central government.

  • Richard Kimber:

    The Beijing government says the best way to solve Hong Kong's problems is for the public to remain united under Chinese rule.

    But while the anniversary festivities continue in this once-freewheeling metropolis, some Hong Kongers are still wondering what exactly they should be celebrating.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Richard Kimber in Hong Kong.

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