Hong Kong’s new leader Donald Tsang celebrated the eighth anniversary of the city’s handover to China today, saying the public had become more patriotic. Police dragged away a rowdy politician who interrupted Tsang’s speech with pro-democracy slogans.
Tsang would get his first big break since taking office last week if a democracy protest later today drew a low turnout.
The street march has attracted massive crowds in the past two years. But most expected far fewer this year, largely because there were no pressing issues. The economy was also picking up, and Tsang is enjoying high approval ratings.
After a flag-raising ceremony, Tsang said at a reception that people in the former British colony had become more patriotic since the 1997 handover to China. He also pledged to improve governance and the economy.
“Never has the bond of flesh and blood, the interdependency between Hong Kong and the mainland been so real to us,” Tsang said.
The Chinese government’s “support for Hong Kong is not empty talk”, he said. “Its action has spoken loud and clear throughout the past eight years. Nor is the patriotism of the Hong Kong people mere lip service.”
The reception was briefly interrupted by radical politician Leung Kwok-hung, who yelled: “Return power to the people.” Security guards quickly dragged him out as he shouted slogans.
Later today, thousands of people started streaming into Victoria Park for the pro-democracy protest. Organisers held a mock referendum on whether Hong Kongers should have the right to directly elect their leader and entire legislature – a freedom also denied by the British.
Another large crowd gathered at Hong Kong Stadium for a patriotic parade with traditional lion dancers, marching bands, people dressed in Chinese opera costumes and marchers of all ages carrying small paper Chinese flags. Organisers said about 20,000 turned out, but police had no estimates.
Bonnie Lai, 27, a clerk, said: “I’m here to celebrate. Beijing has already ruled out direct elections. What’s the point of coming out to protest?”
Philip Lee, 28, a technical officer, said he supported democracy, but it should evolve gradually over the next 20 years. “I want Hong Kong to be a more harmonious society,” he said.
Earlier, Tsang repeated his pledge that “decision making will be accountable and expedient,” and that economic recovery would continue. “We will ride the present momentum of recovery and go all-out to develop our economy,” he said.
Hong Kong’s economy is rebounding and Tsang, a veteran civil servant, is more popular than his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa – a shipping tycoon many thought was too cozy with big business and out of touch with the common people.