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China’s Xi Jinping says Hong Kong’s autonomy will be respected

The president made his vow ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping bows at the steps of the Monument to the People’s Heroes during a ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day at Tiananmen Square (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping bows at the steps of the Monument to the People’s Heroes during a ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day at Tiananmen Square (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

By Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press

Chinese Communist Party leader and President Xi Jinping has renewed his government’s commitment to allowing Hong Kong to manage its own affairs amid continuing anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Mr Xi made his remarks at a reception on the eve of a massive celebration of the People’s Republic’s 70th anniversary that threatens to be marred by clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong.

We will continue to fully and faithfully implement the principles of 'One country, two systems' (and) 'Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong' Xi Jinping, President of China

Demonstrators and police clashed for a second straight day on Sunday in Hong Kong, sparking further chaos in the city’s business and shopping belt and drawing fears of more ugly scenes during the week-long National Day holiday.

“We will continue to fully and faithfully implement the principles of ‘One country, two systems’ (and) ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’,”

China’s approach is to ensure that Hong Kong and its fellow semi-autonomous region of Macao “prosper and progress alongside the mainland and embrace an even brighter future”, Mr Xi said.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping walks past floral wreaths (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Earlier on Monday, Mr Xi led other top officials in paying respects to the founder of the Communist state, Mao Zedong, ahead of the massive celebrations emphasising China’s rise to global prominence.

The unusual move saw Mr Xi bow three times to Mao’s statue at his mausoleum in the centre of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and pay his respects to Mao’s embalmed corpse, which has lain in state in the hulking chamber since soon after his death in 1976.

It was believed to be the first visit to the mausoleum by Mr Xi and other officials since 2013, the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth.

Mr Xi also ascended the nearby Monument to the People’s Heroes to pay further tribute on what has been designated Martyr’s Day, just ahead of Tuesday’s National Day festivities, which will be marked by a massive military parade through the centre of the city of 20 million people.

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Mao Zedong (PA)

Along with other top party officials, more than 4,000 Chinese, including elderly military veterans and retired senior officials, “relatives of martyrs, honorees of national medals and honorary titles,” and members of the party’s youth organisation visited the monument to lay flowers and wreaths.

September 30 was designated Martyr’s Day by China’s legislature in 2014, a year after Mr Xi became president and began redoubling propaganda efforts to promote patriotism and glorify the party, as well as to cultivate a cult of personality surrounding himself unseen since the time of Mao.

The nationwide celebrations seek to highlight China’s enormous transformation from an impoverished state ravaged by Japan’s Second World War invasion and a following civil war into the world’s second-largest economy.

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Workers set up spectator seats on Tiananmen Square (Andy Wong/PA)

China now sits on the cutting edge of breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G communications and its growing military and diplomatic clout increasingly challenges US leadership.

On Tuesday, Mr Xi is expected to preside from atop Tiananmen Gate over a parade that will display China’s rapidly developing arsenal, possibly including the nuclear-capable Dongfeng 41 missile that could reach the United States in 30 minutes.

Plans call for 15,000 troops, more than 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment to take part in the event.

The display of military prowess is seen as a way to underscore Beijing’s ambition to enforce claims to self-governing Taiwan, virtually the entire South China Sea and territory held by Japan.

The anniversary comes as China appears more stable than ever, 30 years after the party used its military to crush a pro-democracy movement centred on Tiananmen Square.

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A portrait of Mao Zedong can be seen (Andy Wong/AP)

Mr Xi has revived theatrical expressions of love of party and state that were popular under Mao and has rallied the nation to his call for the attainment of a Chinese Dream of global prominence, all while cracking down ruthlessly on any sign of political dissent.

Mr Xi faces no serious political rivals and has brought the party to heel through a wide-ranging anti-corruption drive.

Last year, he cemented his role as China’s most powerful ruler of the modern era by amending the constitution to remove presidential term limits, sweeping away years of efforts to systematise leadership transitions and prevent the concentration of power in any one individual.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a dinner marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at the Great Hall of the People (Andy Wong/PA)

At the same time, Mr Xi faces a slowing economy, an ageing population and an ongoing dispute over trade and technology with the US that has restricted China’s access to American technology and hit its imports with tariffs.

Beijing has responded with duties on American products, and the escalating trade war threatens the global economy.

The protracted unrest in Hong Kong, approaching four months, has meanwhile battered the city’s economy, with tourism plunging.

Many people view China as chipping away at the autonomy and freedoms Hong Kong was promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while Beijing has accused the US and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest in a bid to smear its reputation and weaken its control.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a toast (Andy Wong/AP)

Despite speculation that China may be running out of patience with the protests, Beijing has yet to take radical steps such as sending in military forces to quell unrest.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mr Xi hailed China’s development achievements over the last seven decades, especially its success in largely wiping out absolute poverty.

He attributed those successes to the party’s leadership and called for absolute unity around the 90 million-member body to write a “more brilliant chapter” toward realising the Chinese Dream.

Mr Xi also touched on the issue of Taiwan, which China has vowed to annex by force if necessary.

Taiwan’s incorporation into China is “an inevitable trend” and “no one and no force can ever stop it”, Mr Xi said.

PA

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