HONG KONG — Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to follow the “one country, two systems” governing principle for Hong Kong on Friday, saying it is the “best arrangement” to maintain the city’s prosperity and stability.
The principle promises the former British colony the right to retain its own political, social and financial institutions for 50 years after returning to China’s rule in 1997. But critics say it is becoming increasingly threadbare, especially after Beijing imposed the 2020 National Security Law, which jailed or silenced many dissidents.
“(The central government) fully supports the chief executive and the Hong Kong government to govern in accordance with the law, to promote international cooperation and better integrate into the national development plans,” Xi said during a meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee.
Lee is on his first trip to the capital to deliver an annual year-end report to leaders.
Xi praised Lee’s government for its pragmatism and devotion to safeguarding national security. He also pointed to the new administration’s efforts to revitalize the city’s economy and address public concerns.
“These show the new vitality of patriots ruling Hong Kong,” he said.
Lee, a former security minister, became the city’s fifth chief executive on July 1. In an election in May, Lee won over 99% of the vote from a committee stacked with mostly pro-Beijing members as the race’s sole candidate.
Lee’s administration has reopened the city without causing major problems in the public health care system amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, and it has also worked on other health care and housing issues, said John Burns, an honorary professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong.
But creating long-term stability requires the government to engage civil society, which the authorities have “hollowed out in their headlong rush for security,” Burns said.
“We enjoy a fragile stability that has left most citizens out,” he said.
Burns said Lee, appointed partly for his loyalty, has appeared too eager to push Hong Kong’s problems to the central government, pointing to his request for a Beijing ruling that could effectively block pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai from hiring a British lawyer. “This could bode ill for maintaining Hong Kong’s autonomy,” Burns said.
Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam left after five tumultuous years that saw the city rocked by massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, a subsequent political crackdown that crushed dissent, and a coronavirus outbreak that killed thousands of people and hammered the city’s economy.
Regina Ip, a leading member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s Cabinet, said Lee puts more emphasis on teamwork than Lam did and is more willing to take advice. Ip also served on the council during Lam’s term.
“(Lee’s) a much more pleasant colleague to work with,” she said.
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