Hong Kong kicked off celebrations for the 73rd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on Saturday morning as police deployed three special forces, including the counter-terrorism unit, and anti-riot armoured vehicles to guard the official flag-raising ceremony and reception.
Chief Executive John Lee, former Hong Kong leaders and high-ranking officials were among more than 100 people who donned dark red masks on a cloudy, windy morning to watch the raising of the Chinese and Hong Kong flags to mark China’s National Day on October 1.
Lee, who assumed office in July, was flanked by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying on his right. Lee’s predecessor, Carrie Lam, was separated from the current leader by five people, including Chief Justice Andrew Cheung and former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang. Eighty-five-year-old Tung Chee-hwa, who served as the city’s first chief executive, was absent from the ceremony for the second consecutive year. Traditionally, the ceremony is attended by all of Hong Kong’s former leaders.
Police officers marched in Chinese-style goose-step, while helicopters flew over the Golden Bauhinia Square displaying the national and Hong Kong flags during the ceremony. Four vessels also sailed through Victoria Harbour to mark the occasion.
No public viewing was held owing to Covid-19 concerns, as police cordoned off the area and implemented special traffic arrangements. Around 7,000 to 8,000 officers were stationed across the city, local media reported earlier this week citing sources. Responding to an earlier enquiry from HKFP, police did not say how many officers would be deployed on Saturday.
At a reception held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre shortly after the flag-raising ceremony, Lee hailed China as “reaching a new stage” this year with its economic and technological achievements. He pointed to the country’s manned space engineering, saying Hongkongers, as Chinese people, were “very proud.”
The chief executive referred to the speech delivered by Chinese leader Xi Jinping on July 1 when Hong Kong marked 25 years since its return to Chinese rule. Lee said the expectations outlined by Xi would be the blueprint for him and his administration to govern the city.
“Over the past two years, the Central Authorities promulgated and implemented the Hong Kong National Security Law, improved the SAR’s electoral system and implemented the ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’ principle, turning Hong Kong from chaos to governance,” Lee said in Cantonese.
The preparation work for his first policy address, scheduled to be announced on October 19, has entered the final stage, he added. And while there were challenges ahead, Lee said he and his team would not forget their “original intention” to “seek happiness” for residents and “seek development” for Hong Kong.
“[L]et us wish our country continued success and vibrancy, and the Pearl of the Orient continued gleam and contribution to the realisation of national rejuvenation,” he said.
Masters of ceremony at the reception reminded the guests to keep their masks on, practise social distancing and refrain from eating and drinking at the venue in light of the pandemic. Lee greeted other guests around the hall with fist bumps as crowds surrounded him and his wife Janet for photos and selfies.
Counter-terrorism police on patrol
In social media posts published on Friday evening, police said officers from the Counter Terrorism Response Unit, Airport Security Unit and the Railway Response Team would conduct a “high-profile patrol” near the Golden Bauhinia Square and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the flag-raising ceremony and a celebration reception for the National Day took place.
The Force said its new anti-riot “Saber-toothed tiger” armoured vehicle – manufactured in mainland China and put into operation in the city in June – would also be deployed in the area where the celebrations would be held. The Force posted images of at least one armoured vehicle, but would not disclose how many had been stationed on the ground.
According to the post, small-scale crowd control management vehicles such as water cannon were also on standby to ensure the ceremony ran safely.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the enactment of the national security law in 2020, Hong Kong often saw rallies and demonstrations on October 1. However, this year’s celebrations have thus far been free from protests as the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of the city’s last active pro-democracy groups, said they had no plans to organise activities on the National Day.
The LSD told HKFP on Wednesday that they had been contacted by the National Security Department of the police, which asked about their plans for the “sensitive date.”
The protest group had staged demonstrations on October 1 in previous years. Last year they marched briefly with a banner calling for the release of people they described as political prisoners, including 47 well-known Hong Kong politicians and activists facing a subversion charge.