China’s Xi says Hong Kong is moving ‘from chaos to governance’

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday outlined a future for Hong Kong firmly embedded in mainland central government goals.

“Now Hong Kong is in a new phase of transition from chaos to governance and then from governance to greater prosperity,” Xi said at the inauguration ceremony of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee.

“The next five years will be crucial for Hong Kong to break new ground and make a fresh start,” Xi said, according to an English translation broadcast by state media.

Xi oversaw the inauguration of Lee, a Beijing loyalist who was the only candidate for the post in a May election.

Lee’s tenure is five years and his inauguration coincided with the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover to China from British colonial rule.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee at the inauguration ceremony July 1, 2022. Xi led the ceremony on his first trip outside the mainland since Covid struck.

Justin Chin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

People have learned the hard way that Hong Kong must not be destabilized and cannot afford to see chaos.

Xi Jinping

President, China

He specifically mentioned China’s second centennial goal, which is to build “a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

Xi: Hong Kong ‘cannot afford’ chaos

Whether in achieving these national goals or the “four hopes,” Xi repeatedly stressed the role of “one country, two systems.”

The policy has allowed Hong Kong to operate as a semi-autonomous region under Beijing’s rule while enjoying a degree of legal and economic autonomy that other Chinese cities lack.

Large-scale, violent protests in 2019 were initially sparked by proposed changes to a law that would allow extradition to China – a bill many in Hong Kong claimed violated the “one country, two systems” principle.

On Friday, Xi spoke at length about the social unrest of the past few years.

“People have learned the hard way that Hong Kong must not be destabilized and cannot afford to see chaos,” he said. “There is broad agreement that no time should be wasted in Hong Kong’s development and that all interference should be removed so that Hong Kong can continue to focus on development.”

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product shrank in 2019 and 2020 as protests disrupted the local economy, even before the pandemic sealed the city off from foreign and mainland tourists. The region was one of the most important international financial centers in Asia.

Xi said Hong Kong has helped connect the mainland with the world and the Chinese city is “irreplaceable” in its contribution to the “motherland’s” economic development. He pointed to Hong Kong’s important role in opening up China to the rest of the world.

“It has continued to retain its strength of being very free and open and familiar with international rules,” the Chinese president said.

Hong Kong’s GDP rebounded in 2021, growing by 6.4%. However, the economy contracted 4% in the first quarter of this year as another wave of Covid and pandemic control measures hit the city.

Lee: Restoring “Order Out of Chaos”

In a remark before Xi on Friday, Hong Kong’s new chief executive said that “one country, two systems” is the “cornerstone for maintaining Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity.”

Lee identified three significant protests between 2014 and 2019 and said “full support from central authorities” has contributed to Hong Kong’s ability to weather challenges.

“The rule of law is a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s success,” added Hong Kong’s new leader. He said the implementation of Hong Kong’s National Security Law and changes to the electoral system are part of restoring “order out of chaos” in Hong Kong.

In 2020, the Chinese parliament passed the National Security Law, which strengthened Beijing’s control over Hong Kong. An official English translation of the law states that a person acting with the aim of undermining Hong Kong’s “national union” with the mainland could face a life sentence, depending on the seriousness of the offence. Financial support for such activities is also a punishable offence.