China‘s Fu Yuanhui, the Olympic swimmer who won legions of fans in Rio for her joyful over-enthusiasm, said Saturday that Chinese people and Hong Kongers were “one family” as fears grow about Beijing’s increasing influence in the semi-autonomous city.

Fu is part of a 64-strong delegation of Chinese athletes that arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday for a three-day tour, with thousands of tickets to sports events snapped up by residents ahead of their arrival.

Fu Yuanhui
Leung Chun-ying and Fu Yuanhui. Photo: GovHK.

“I have always felt that we are one family, we are brothers and sisters,” Fu, 20, said at a press conference when asked about her reception in Hong Kong.

The swimming star said she had many fans in the city and had been looking forward to the visit.

Fu had won praise online for speaking frankly about having her period while competing in Rio — long a taboo subject for female athletes — while her goofy and charming pool-side antics have also turned her into a viral sensation.

Despite winning bronze rather than gold, Fu has shot to popularity for her likeable manner. “I utilised my prehistorical powers,” she said in one interview after coming third in the women’s 100 metre backstroke.

hong kong china flag children patriotism
Photo: GovHK.

“I like Hong Kong, and always wanted to come. But I didn’t get a chance to because I was always busy training,” she said. “There’s a lot of good food and fun places in Hong Kong, I’m looking forward to them.”

Some have seen the visit as a bridge-building exercise between mainland China and the city, where support for an independence movement has surged. Many young activists are frustrated at the failure of mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 to win any political reforms from Beijing.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under an agreement that protects its freedoms for 50 years, but concerns have grown that such freedoms are now fading as Beijing increases its influence across a range of areas, from politics to the media.

“The delegation’s visit is definitely a good thing to promote Hong Kong citizens’ identification with Chinese glory and pride,” Zhang Dingzhun, deputy director of the Center for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau at Shenzhen University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

YouTube video

The city’s chief secretary Carrie Lam also said Saturday the visit illustrated the good relationship between the two places.

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.