Chinese leader Xi Jinping has hailed the restoration of “order” in Hong Kong following periods of “turbulence,” adding that the One Country, Two Systems framework must be adhered to over the long term to ensure prosperity.

Addressing delegates gathered at the opening of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on Sunday morning, Xi said stability had been restored in Hong Kong under the leadership of the central government.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping speaks during the opening session of the 20th Chinese Communist Party’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 16, 2022. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP.

“In the face of turbulent developments in Hong Kong, the central government exercised overall jurisdiction over the special administrative region as prescribed by China’s constitution and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and ensured Hong Kong is administered by patriots,” he said, adding that Hong Kong had gone from “chaos to governance.”

Xi appeared to be referencing the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest, and the ensuing security law imposed by Beijing, which saw democrats jailed or fleeing abroad.

The One Country, Two systems framework that Hong Kong is governed under is a “great innovation of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Xi added. “It has proven to be the best institutional arrangement for ensuring sustained prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macau after their return to the motherland… This policy must be adhered to over the long term.”

chinese hong kong flags national day patriotic
China and Hong Kong flags at Central Market on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Xi’s address, lasting almost two hours, kicked off China’s twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress. The summit will wrap next Saturday, and is expected to hand Xi an unprecedented third five-year term as China’s leader.

He also said China would “strive for peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, build the People’s Liberation Army into a “world-class military” and push back against “bullying” on the international stage. Self-governing Taiwan is seen as part of China by Beijing.

During his visit to Hong Kong to mark the city’s 25th anniversary of its return to China, Xi said he had been “concerned about” the city during the five years since his 2017 trip to the territory.

“Recently, Hong Kong has withstood serious tests and overcome risks and challenges one after another. Following the storms, Hong Kong was reborn… fully showing the strong vitality of [the] One Country, Two Systems framework,” he said.

A ‘new chapter’

Hong Kong government officials and lawmakers recapped Xi’s speech in social media posts on Sunday, echoing Xi’s praise of the One Country, Two Systems framework and the rule by “patriots.”

“Over the past five years, Hong Kong has experienced its most serious test since the Handover,” Chief Executive John Lee said on Facebook. “But whether it’s the social unrest in 2019, or the Covid-19 epidemic that has lasted almost three years, the country is ultimately Hong Kong’s biggest pillar of support.”

He added: “We should learn from the spirit of the 20th National Congress. We should unite in our fights and struggles to better integrate into the country’s development and contribute to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation!”

Kevin Yeung, the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, said it was “imperative” to “understand the content of the 20th National Congress meeting.”

“As the Special Administrative Region’s Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, I was particularly thrilled that General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out the need for the country to adhere to the development path of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics… and tell good stories about China,” Yeung wrote.

Lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), Hong Kong’s biggest pro-Beijing party, held a press conference in response to Xi’s speech on Sunday afternoon.

Starry Lee, chairperson of the DAB, said the holding of the 20th National Congress was a “historic milestone” that marked the country’s “new journey and new chapter.”

Hong Kong’s sole self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen also referenced Xi’s address. “The country’s future planning and Hong Kong are closely related. As Chairperson Xi said, Hong Kong needs to bring into play the advantages of the One Country, Two Systems framework, strengthen its standing as an international hub, and promote the development of people’s livelihoods, the economy and politics,” he wrote.

However, NGO Amnesty International said in a Saturday press release that Xi’s leadership posed a threat to human rights at home and abroad: “President Xi’s decade in power has been characterized by sweeping arbitrary detentions, a ruthless nationwide crackdown on freedom of expression and association, crimes against humanity against Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and a dramatic escalation of repression in Hong Kong.”

“And as Chinese activists, human rights lawyers, independent journalists and other human rights defenders brace themselves for more of the same – or worse – the international community must redouble efforts to ensure the next five years are different. There can be no excuse for failing to hold the Chinese authorities to account over atrocities committed in President Xi’s name.”

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.