BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader promised Saturday to revive its struggling economy following a campaign to crush a pro-democracy movement as China’s ruling Communist Party marked its 73rd anniversary in power under strict anti-virus controls.
In Beijing, crowds of spectators watched a 96-member honor guard raise the Chinese flag on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital. There were no parades or other public events after authorities called on the public to avoid holiday travel.
National Day marks the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People’s Republic of China by then-leader Mao Zedong following a civil war. The mainland’s former ruling Nationalist Party left for Taiwan, now a self-ruled democracy.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee warned in a speech that COVID-19 “still overshadows” the city of over 7 million people. He promised to revive the struggling economy and “safeguard people’s livelihood” as travel and other anti-virus curbs are eased.
Lee, who took office in July, is a former police chief who oversaw a crackdown that imprisoned pro-democracy activists, shut down a prominent newspaper and triggered an exodus of residents to Britain, the United States and Taiwan.
“Hong Kong now undergoes the critical transition from stability to prosperity,” said Lee, who wore a red mask the color of the Chinese flag and was flanked by masked dignitaries at a downtown convention center.
“I have full confidence in the future of Hong Kong, and so should you,” Lee said.
Lee invoked the slogan “patriots administering Hong Kong,” a reference to official efforts to block pro-democracy activists from holding public office. He said a speech given by President Xi Jinping during a July 1 visit would be his government’s “blueprint for governance.”
On Friday, Premier Li Keqiang, China’s No. 2 leader behind Xi, promised at a National Day reception in Beijing to keep economic performance “within an appropriate range” despite the pressure of the pandemic, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The United States, Britain and other governments complain Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong in response to pro-democracy protests that began in 2019 violates its promise of autonomy for the former British colony.
Washington and other governments have imposed sanctions on some officials associated with the crackdown and withdrawn trade and other privileges that treated Hong Kong as a separate territory from the mainland.
This year’s National Day, normally one of China’s busiest tourism periods, is overshadowed by anti-virus controls while other governments have eased travel and other restrictions.
The ruling party faces mounting complaints about the economic and human cost of travel and other restrictions.
Curbs are expected to stay in place at least until after a ruling party congress that begins Oct. 16, at which Xi, China’s most influential political figure in decades, is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader.
Hong Kong is easing travel and other restrictions to revive what used to be one of Asia’s most robust economies after activity contracted by 1.4% from a year earlier in the three months ending in June.
Visitors will be allowed to wait out a three-day quarantine at home instead of under supervision in a hotel under measures announced by Lee on Sept. 23.
In Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, members of the Taiwan People’s Communist Party raised the Chinese flag in the southern city of Tainan and chanted, “Long live the Motherland.” The group of about 150 people released red balloons and white doves.
The party is led by Te-Wang Lin, a businessman who works in China. He once prompted controversy by driving a car from China with mainland license plates on Taiwanese roads.
Xi’s government is stepping up efforts to intimidate Taiwan by flying fighter planes and bombers near the island and firing missiles into the sea. Beijing says the island is obliged to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.
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