China's Xi Jinping hails 'reborn' Hong Kong on 25th anniversary of handover from Britain

'A shadow of its former self': ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports on the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China

China's president has hailed Hong Kong as being “reborn from the ashes” as he defended Chinese rule on the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's handover.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the framework that promised Hong Kong its own laws and government for 50 years after the 1997 handover from Britain was still a good system that "must be maintained for a long time" as he hit back against accusations by the US, UK and others that Beijing has undermined the freedoms and autonomy promised to Hong Kong.

Mr Xi arrived in Hong Kong for the ceremony to celebrate the occasion, his first visit outside mainland China since the Covid-19 outbreak.

He was greeted at the West Kowloon train station by flag-waving supporters but heightened security meant the traditional flag-raising ceremony, and areas around its venue, were closed to the public.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Xi said Hong Kong had overcome many challenges over the years and had been “reborn from the ashes” with “vigorous vitality”.

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech following a swearing-in ceremony to inaugurate the city's new government in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

But his words come amid much criticism from the UK and other Western nations over human rights.

There has been a steady erosion of political and civil rights since the imposition by Beijing of the National Security Law in June 2020 – brought in following mass protests over legislation allowing extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland. The changes have all but eliminated dissenting voices in a place once known for its vibrant political debate and have driven many to leave.

But Xi praised the city for overcoming “violent social unrest” and warned that there would be no tolerance for foreign interference or traitors meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

He said that “safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests” is of the highest priority.

“Nobody in any country or region in the world will allow foreign countries or even traitorous forces and figures to seize power,” he said, adding that only by having patriots governing Hong Kong can it ensure long-term stability.

“After the return to the motherland, Hong Kong has overcome all kinds of challenges and moved forwards steadily,” Xi said. “Regardless of whether it was the international financial crisis, the coronavirus pandemic or violent social unrest, nothing has stopped Hong Kong’s progress.”

Pro-China supporters gather, marking the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

“As long as we stick to the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, Hong Kong will certainly have a brighter future and will make new and bigger contributions to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” he said.

He praised the territory’s chief executive Carrie Lam for ending what he said was chaos that had gripped the city and for ensuring that only “patriots” would rule Hong Kong.

The foreign secretary said Britain will continue to support the rights of the people of Hong Kong.

In a statement to mark the anniversary of the handover, Liz Truss acknowledged the past two years had seen a “steady erosion” of the rights and freedoms agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Ms Truss insisted that the UK’s “historic commitment” to the people of the territory still endured.

Lord Patten and Prince Charles wave Hong Kong goodbye as they board the Royal Britannia on June 30, 1997. Credit: PA

In a statement, Ms Truss said that under the terms of the legally-binding Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, China had a duty to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms

“Authorities have stifled opposition, criminalised dissent and driven out anyone who can speak truth to power,” she said.

“The United Kingdom’s historic commitment to Hong Kong and its people endures. That is why we continue to challenge China for breaching the legally-binding commitments it signed up to under the Joint Declaration.

“We have called out their conduct on the world stage and stood together with our G7 partners in condemning the steady erosion of political and civil rights and Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“Twenty-five years on, the UK continues to stand unwaveringly with Hong Kong. We are working with our allies and partners as part of a global network of liberty to hold China to its international obligations.”

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