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Hong Kong Awaits Word on Xi Visit      06/27 06:10


   HONG KONG (AP) -- Will he go or not?

   Chinese President Xi Jinping kept Hong Kong guessing on Monday about his 
possible appearance at the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's 
return to Chinese rule.

   The government has yet to say whether he will be physically present for the 
events, which include the inauguration of the city's new chief executive.

   The event is hugely symbolic for Xi, who wants to be seen as propelling a 
"national rejuvenation" as he prepares for an expected third five-year term as 
head of the ruling Communist Party. Part of that is erasing the legacy of 
colonialism and what China regards as unequal treaties granting rights to 
foreign nations imposed during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty, which 
ended in 1911.

   Xi hasn't left mainland China since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 
1/2 years ago, and his exchanges with foreign leaders have been mainly limited 
to video calls.

   Hong Kong, meanwhile, faces a renewed rise in COVID-19 infections after an 
avalanche of cases this year threatened to overwhelm its hospitals.

   China's official media have said only that Xi will participate in the July 1 
commemorations, without describing any travel plans.

   Xi gave a speech in Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of its turnover in 
which he pledged the central government would take a hard line against any 
challenges to its authority.

   Pro-democracy protests in 2019 were followed by a sweeping crackdown that 
has effectively ended political opposition in the city. As with most matters 
concerning the ruling Communist Party, the travel plans of top leaders are 
generally kept secret.

   China has stuck to its "zero-COVID" strategy of eliminating outbreaks by 
mass testing the population and locking down buildings, neighborhoods or whole 
cities for weeks or even months.

   While the Hong Kong commemorations are purely symbolic, they will include 
the installation Friday of former security chief John Lee, who led a harsh 
crackdown on the 2019 pro-democracy protests, as the city's chief executive.

   After the protests, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that 
has jailed, silenced or exiled Hong Kong political activists; curtailed 
freedoms of expression and assembly; and removed or disqualified people from 
public office if they were deemed unpatriotic.

   Xi's 2017 speech at the 20th anniversary marked a backing away from the "one 
country, two systems" framework under which Hong Kong was to retain its civil, 
political and economic liberties for 50 years, until 2047. China has declared 
the Sino-British Joint Declaration that laid the legal framework for Chinese 
rule as no longer relevant and has refused to acknowledge Hong Kong's former 
status as a British Crown Colony, saying it never accepted the treaties that 
were signed between the United Kingdom and the Qing empire.

   Hong Kong political analyst Sonny Lo said he expects Xi to be present for 
Friday's ceremony, but that he will likely return at the end of the day to 
Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China for security reasons.

   Xi's presence will demonstrate Beijing's confidence in its policies toward 
Hong Kong, including in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Lo said.

   Xi's government has emphasized the city's integration into the "Greater Bay 
Area" encompassing much of mainland China's manufacturing and technological 
bases in Guangdong province, and his message will likely focus in that 
direction rather than looking at past events, Lo said.

   Having dealt with political opposition in Hong Kong, Xi will turn next to 
the task of annexing the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan, a close 
U.S.-ally which China claims as its own territory, Lo said.

   "So half way to 2047, this visit is particularly significant," Lo said. "The 
positive overtone will be extremely important because we can expect Beijing to 
turn to Taiwan, to appeal for some kind of dialogue."

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