China’s development over the years has given Hong Kong “endless opportunities,” Chief Executive John Lee has said as top officials gathered for a reception celebrating National Day on Sunday.

john lee China National Day reception
Chief Executive John Lee attends the China National Day reception on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Addressing guests at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre following a flag-raising ceremony outside in Golden Bauhinia Square, Lee hailed China’s achievements despite the backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty.

Chief Executive John Lee’s National Day speech in full – click to view.

Fellow citizens, distinguished guests and friends,
     Today, I am very pleased to celebrate with you the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
     Our world and our times are undergoing historic changes in ways like never before. Despite the increasingly intricate and grave strategic environment, our country continues to achieve tremendous results. Over the past five years, China’s economy has grown by an average annual rate of more than 5 per cent, significantly higher than the global average of around 2.6 per cent.
     With a gross domestic product reaching RMB 121 trillion last year, China has further reinforced her important status as the world’s largest manufacturer, largest merchandise trader, largest holder of foreign currency reserves, second largest services trader, second largest consumer market, second largest economy and so on.
     On the journey to building China into a great country and realising the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, our motherland remains steadfast in opening up to the world and pursuing high-quality development. That brings unlimited opportunities to Hong Kong. This year, 2023, is a landmark year of multiple significance.
     To begin with, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. China has so far signed more than 200 Belt and Road co-operation documents with over 180 countries and international organisations. As a functional platform and key node for the Initiative, and with the Central Government’s support, Hong Kong is able to capitalise on its unique advantages to bring about mutual benefits in such areas as international project financing, offshore Renminbi business, professional services support, as well as economic, trade and people-to-people exchange and co-operation.
     This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of CEPA — the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. The past 20 years saw a more than twofold increase in the total value of merchandise trade between the Mainland and Hong Kong, with a value exceeding HK$4,600 billion last year. CEPA has also reinforced Hong Kong’s attractiveness to Mainland and overseas investors. The number of regional headquarters and offices set up here by investors outside of Hong Kong has recorded a two-third increase over the past two decades.
     Moreover, this year is the 30th anniversary of H‑share listings in Hong Kong. To date, a total of around 1 430 H-share companies, red-chip companies and private companies from the Mainland have been listed in Hong Kong, accounting for some 55 per cent of the total number of listed companies in the city. Mainland enterprises have a share of nearly 80 per cent of the total market capitalisation in Hong Kong and contribute more than 80 per cent of the equity turnover of our stock market. The total number of companies listed in Hong Kong has increased over threefold since 1993, from over 700 to 2 600 this August.
     These concrete figures clearly reflect Hong Kong’s opportunities and achievements brought about by the development of our country. On the way forward, we should continue to leverage, under “one country, two systems”, our distinctive advantages of enjoying the Mainland’s strong support and being closely connected to the world, actively integrate into the country’s overall development, and dovetail with the 14th Five-Year Plan, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development, the Belt and Road Initiative and so on. We should strive to enhance our international competitiveness, promote economic development and improve people’s livelihood and well-being.
     Over the past year, Hong Kong has emerged from the pandemic, and our economy is gradually improving. In the first half of this year, private consumption expenditure rose by 10.5 per cent year-on-year, while exports of services grew markedly by about 20 per cent. In the first eight months this year, the value of total retail sales increased by nearly 20 per cent; in the first nine months, visitor arrivals surpassed 23 million; and the latest unemployment rate has decreased to 2.8 per cent.
     We are going all out to boost economy, and we have launched the “Night Vibes Hong Kong” campaign to vigorously promote the city’s nighttime activities. A highlight of the campaign is definitely the return of the National Day Fireworks Display, which will light up the sky over Victoria Harbour tonight, after a five-year hiatus. The Government has taken the lead in rolling out a series of celebratory activities and special offers, in order to share the joy of the National Day with the public, making Hong Kong even more lively, festive and colourful during the holiday.
     The Government spares no effort to spur economic development, with the aim that our citizens will be able to enjoy a better and happier life in Hong Kong, our home.
     I will deliver the new Policy Address on October 25. Over the last two months or so of consultation, my team and I have conducted more than 40 consultation sessions, and I have visited different districts to gather public views. I deeply feel our citizens’ affection for Hong Kong and their aspirations for a better life. I will carefully consider and collate the views received, and draw up relevant measures, which will then be announced in my Policy Address. I will do my utmost for the people’s livelihood and the economy.
     Fellow citizens, distinguished guests and friends, Hong Kong is at a crucial stage of advancing from stability to prosperity. We should treasure every opportunity to pursue economic development and enhance the city’s competitiveness. I am glad to see the strong consensus in Hong Kong society in this regard.
     We are facing an ever-changing environment, yet it is where opportunities and challenges co-exist. I believe that, as the old Chinese saying goes, “great accomplishments require ambition and tireless effort”. As long as we share the same ambition, stand as one and keep working hard, we will certainly scale new heights.
     Hong Kong people have weathered a number of storms and can withstand any test. Being resourceful and flexible, Hong Kong people have turned many crises into opportunities, and Hong Kong has always emerged even more successful and outstanding than before. Let’s be united and work together — for the building of China into a great country through Chinese modernisation, for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and for the long‑term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. Thank you.

“Over the past five years, the country’s economic growth has been above 5 per cent. This is clearly higher than the global average growth of 2.6 per cent,” Lee said in Cantonese.

China National Day reception
Top officials attend the China National Day reception on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“On this journey of strong nation building and the rejuvenation of the nation, the country has pushed forth with opening up and comprehensively promoted high-quality development, bringing Hong Kong endless opportunities,” he added.

Lee was joined on stage by senior officials including Chief Secretary Eric Chan, Financial Secretary Paul Chan, the convener of the Executive Council Regina Ip, as well as Legislative Council president Andrew Leung.

Sunday marked the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. As officials attended the flag-raising ceremony, a secondary school choir sang the national anthem and helicopters and boats passed through the harbour.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Sunday was the first National Day since strict Covid-19 restrictions were lifted earlier this year. A public viewing area at the flag-raising ceremony – which was closed during the past three years as authorities cited the pandemic – was not reopened on Sunday.

During the reception speech, Lee said 2023 was a “symbolic” year because it marked the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road initiative, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), a trade agreement bringing the Hong Kong and China markets closer.

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This year also marked three decades since the listing of H-shares, or shares of mainland companies listed on Hong Kong’ stock exchange, Lee said.

Over the years, he added, trade volumes between Hong Kong and the mainland had doubled, and the number of listed companies in Hong Kong had tripled since 1993. “These concrete figures clearly reflect the opportunities and achievements that China’s development has brought to Hong Kong,” Lee said.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Traditionally a day of protest with mass marches and rallies from civil society groups, National Day has not seen such scenes since Beijing imposed a national security law in June 2020.

According to AFP, police have increased surveillance of activists – discouraging rallies, paying home visits ahead of sensitive dates, and summoning protest leaders for warning chats.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Police confirmed to HKFP on Friday that they had received no notifications for any public protest or rally to be held.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

When asked how many officers were set to be deployed on Sunday, police declined to comment. Local media outlets cited sources as saying that 7,500 officers would be on standby citywide.

Fireworks return, city awash with flags

With Covid-19 restrictions lifted, fireworks will light up Hong Kong’s night skies at 9 pm on National Day for the first time since 2018. The HK$18 million-display will see eight scenes, including one with red hearts to represent “joy and unity,” according to corporate sponsors Hong Kong Telecom and FWD Insurance.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Meanwhile, the city has also rolled out a host of special offers including half-price movie tickets and free rides on trams and certain ferry routes. The government called on restaurants and shopping malls to launch designated discounts.

Leading up to National Day, Hong Kong and China flags, bunting and posters have appeared across the city. When asked by HKFP about the cost of the patriotic decorations in local districts, a Home Affairs Department spokesperson on Friday did not give an exact figure.

China National Day flag-raising ceremony
The China National Day flag-raising ceremony on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“[Authorities] have coordinated the display of a total of over 110,000 festive articles including National Flags, celebratory banners, stickers, posters, lamppost buntings, LED display[s], flower display[s], lighting and large installations at about 3,000 locations,” they said. “The costs of festive displays are absorbed by respective bureaux and departments from within their existing resources according to the principle of fiscal prudence.”

The spokesperson added that the patriotic paraphernalia will remain on display until mid-to-late October.

Additional reporting: Kelly Ho.

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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.