In what can only be described as a massive preemptive and cautionary move, China has deployed more than six thousand police officers to the streets of Hong Kong ahead of the city’s visit by one of the Chinese Communist Party’s top officials.
In addition to the extreme number of policemen in forces, many sections of the city have been shut down as well, as authorities brace themselves for chaos upon the rare visit.
Zhang Dejiang, Beijing’s Number 3 in power, is the first senior official to make a trip to Hong Kong since the internationally-publicized 2014 Occupy Democracy protests.
The official reason for Zhang’s visit is for an economic summit. He began his stay, however, by promising to listen to all sectors of society’s views “about what recommendations and requirements they have about implementing the principles of ‘one country, two systems’”.
Zhang will be meeting with head members of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in which they plan on outlining their demands for the removal of current chief executive Leung Chun-ying, and have the country hold its own elections.
Zhang is also due to give a speech at a conference Wednesday morning, before holding a meeting with lawmakers and having dinner with Leung Chun-ying.
Authorities have taken serious security measures (on top of the thousands of police) including gluing down pavement bricks to hinder an outbreak of violent protests, while police camp atop a mountain, and security guards confiscate reporters’ umbrellas at the airport. Yellow umbrellas became the symbol of democracy in the protests two years ago.
Reactions to Zhang’s visit – and what it means to the democracy and independence of the island – by native Hong Kongers have been mixed.
Emily Lau, leader of the Democratic Party, told BBC News she was happy to see Zhang in the country. “We intend to tell him what we think of what is happening here,” she said. “Hong Kong is really facing the darkest moments since the handover in 1997 and mainly because of poor governance of the chief executive and also because of Beijing’s very hardline policy.”
Some activists are calling for an outright breakaway from mainland China, though some politicians criticize this idealist view, saying this move has the potential to irrevocably damage HK’s economic and political future.
“These young people have no idea that they could be putting Hong Kong on a potentially dangerous collision course with the motherland and bringing an unmitigated disaster,” former top Hong Kong security official Regina Ip wrote in an editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper.
“Separatism, or rather the anti-mainland doctrine in disguise, will… doom Hong Kong,” she said.
Hong Kong in reality does rely on China for much of its economic sustenance; China files in millions of tourists into the city, powering its tourism and retail sectors. Chinese capital acts as a huge aid to Hong Kong’s financial market, as well as helps provide food, water, and electricity to the island.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters Monday, “Acts in favor of Hong Kong independence harm the sovereignty and security of the country, harm the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, and harm the fundamental interests of Hong Kong.”
According to Vice News, observers with close ties to the Chinese government say one of Zhang’s priorities during his visit will be establishing relations with more moderate democrats in an attempt to ease tensions.