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China's President Visits Hong Kong To Mark 20 Years Of Chinese Rule


China's president visits Hong Kong today. Xi Jinping is marking 20 years of Chinese rule. The city, you may recall, was once controlled by Great Britain, a colonial possession. Britain returned it in 1997. NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Hong Kong. What's it like there today, Rob?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Well, Steve, it's pretty busy. I mean, I'm in Wan Chi right now, which is the neighborhood where Xi Jinping is at at this moment. And a lot of the streets here are shut down. You've got the entire waterfront barricaded against any sort of - anyone who's really not allowed in that area. You've got also two of the major hotels downtown here, the Hyatt and the Renaissance. Thirteen-hundred hotel rooms have been blocked. No one can stay there except the entourage around Xi Jinping, the...

INSKEEP: Is the entourage that large, or is that just a security measure?

SCHMITZ: (Laughter) It's a security measure. I mean, this is - this is a very big visit. This is Xi Jinping's first visit to Hong Kong since becoming China's president.

INSKEEP: This seems like a good moment to put this question on the table, Rob Schmitz. Twenty years ago, China did take over Hong Kong from Great Britain, which had imposed a certain rule of law. And the Chinese promised to keep a version of democracy and that rule of law - one country, two systems, they said 20 years ago. How's that worked out?

SCHMITZ: It hasn't. When it came time to make good on this promise, Beijing implemented this system that ensures the chief executive of the city is elected by a mostly pro-Beijing group of elites, not by individual citizens of Hong Kong.

And when it became clear that this was going to be the case in 2014, people became very angry, and they flooded the streets. They shut down the financial district of the city for nearly three months - thousands of protesters. And that ended in a violent police crackdown. So there are a lot of sore feelings about this anniversary and about the incoming chief executive, Carrie Lam, who will be sworn in on Saturday.

INSKEEP: Does that help to explain the massive security, the barricades, the police and the 1,300 empty hotel rooms?

SCHMITZ: Absolutely. You know, these protests were spurred, as we mentioned, by China's refusal to make good on its promise in '97. And I think that people are still angry about it. And I think China's nervous about this visit because there is a very large potential for protests against it.

INSKEEP: Has anybody announced they are going to protest? Is there anything expected?

SCHMITZ: Well, there already have been some acts of civil disobedience at Hong Kong landmarks this week. The young activist leader Joshua Wong was arrested last night after he and other protesters occupied a famous statue where Xi Jinping will be staying. And he and others have not been freed from detention yet.

There are protests that are being called for both Friday night as well as Saturday - a big march on Saturday. But, you know, whatever happens, we're going to have a large police presence. Eleven thousand policemen will be securing the city.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks as always.

SCHMITZ: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.