Hong Kong has marked 25 years since its Handover from Britain with closed-door celebrations, transport disruptions and a typhoon that brought occasional showers and winds.
Police officers dotted footbridges between Wan Chai MTR station and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping inaugurated John Lee as the city’s new chief executive on Friday morning.
See also: China’s Xi Jinping inaugurates John Lee as leader
Passersby were barred from proceeding at some checkpoints manned by officers, who told them that a “security zone” was ahead and to take a detour.
Officers stopped a HKFP reporter on a bridge and searched their bag after taking down their identity card details.
HKFP was unable to attend the inauguration as its reporters were not granted an invitation. Authorities denied multiple media outlets and agencies, including the local InMedia as well as the US’s Getty Images and Japanese newspaper Nikkei, access. Meanwhile, individual reporters at some invited outlets were later barred for undefined “security reasons.” Most outlets were allowed to send only one reporter to the festivities.
On Gloucester Road, a main thoroughfare in Wan Chai, traffic was noticeably quiet due to road closures in the vicinity. Some pedestrian streets were also affected by the security blanket.
Friday marked the end of Xi’s two-day visit to Hong Kong. He travelled to the city on Thursday afternoon via high speed rail, greeted by welcome chants, a red carpet and a brass band at West Kowloon Station.
Xi took the train back to Shenzhen for the night before coming back to Hong Kong on Friday morning. He did not stay overnight in Hong Kong reportedly due to Covid-19.
Outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre, flag posts rattled in the wind as Tropical Storm Chaba edged towards the Guangdong Coast on Friday. The Hong Kong Observatory raised typhoon signal number 3 on Thursday night, adding that the T8 signal may be raised by Friday evening.
The Hong Kong Observatory issued a thunderstorm warning at around noon. It was extended until 4:30 p.m.
Near the Convention and Exhibition Centre, the blocked off streets caused frustration among some passers-by who were unaware of the road closures.
At almost every turn, police officers manned metres-high blue and white barriers. Officers were seen denying access even to people who said their office was in the area and that they needed to work.
A couple with their toddler told HKFP outside Great Eagle Centre that they wanted to walk to Wan Chai pier to take the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui, but police stopped them and said the street ahead was sealed off.
“I’m not sure how to walk to the pier now,” the father, who declined to be named, said.
Another man, however, said he thought the street closures were “a good thing.”
“Our country’s leader is here,” the 47-year-old, surnamed Chan, said. He was wearing a red face mask with a 25th Handover anniversary design printed on it. “Of course we must have more enhanced security.”
Authorities said a total of 23 bus routes terminating outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre, and 30 passing bus routes, would be “diverted or truncated as appropriate” to accomodate Xi’s visit.
A section of Gloucester Road was designated as a temporary bus terminus. Meanwhile, the Exhibition Centre MTR station was also closed on Thursday and Friday.
Minutes away from where Xi was officiating Lee’s oath-taking ceremony, about a dozen domestic workers spent their public holiday practicing a dance routine at the nearby Harbour Road Garden.
Jennifer Canalija, who was leading the troupe, told HKFP she was unaffected by the transport disruptions as she “came early enough.”
Outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre, a man approached a HKFP reporter saying that he and two others wanted to speak to Xi about their brother, who they said had been “beaten up and detained” by police in the mainland.
They brought what they described as case documents and photos of their brother, and said they wanted to go to the “petition area.” Police said earlier that a zone would be set up for members of the public to submit letters to the authorities.
It was unclear, however, if the “petition area” was actually set up. When HKFP asked officers where the area was, one said “we don’t have a petition area.” Later, a police officer told HKFP it was on O’Brien Road, while another said separately that it was outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The area could not be found in either locations.
HKFP has reached out to the police to confirm whether such an area had been set up, where it was, and how many letters had been received.
‘A momentous occasion’
At Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai, people posed for pictures beneath a sea of China and Hong Kong flags that have turned the street into a popular photograph spot.
“I’m happy that [leader] Xi Jinping came to Hong Kong,” a man surnamed Chow, who was there with his wife and two kids, said. “Today is a momentous occasion, and his presence shows that he cares about Hong Kong.”
Chow said he looked forward to Lee tackling Hong Kong’s deep-rooted problems, such as the housing shortage and the public healthcare system especially in the face of the city’s ageing population.
Asking to be identified with the initial “B”, another man said he did not have “much feeling” about Hong Kong marking a quarter of a century under Chinese rule.
“I just hope the new government [led by Lee] will be better. I don’t think the previous term of government achieved much in the past five years,” he said.
Meanwhile, one expatriate couple – who asked to be identified as “C” and “S” – told HKFP that the celebrations felt “artificial.”
“C,” from the UK, said that while banners toasting the 25th Handover anniversary decorated the city, he did not think people were “really celebrating.”
“It doesn’t feel like a celebration,” he said. “And it’s odd that on this day, it’s fine to come out and gather, but for other occasions, it’s not.”
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