Chinese leader Xi Jinping stated on Monday that Beijing would continue to allow Hong Kong to handle its own affairs as anti-government protests threaten to tarnish a massive celebration honouring 70 years of Communist rule.
“We will continue to fully and faithfully implement the principles of ‘One country, two systems’ [and] ’Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong,’” Mr Xi said, according to a printed copy of remarks given on the eve of China’s National Day holiday.
China’s approach is to ensure that Hong Kong and its fellow semi-autonomous region of Macau “prosper and progress alongside the mainland and embrace an even brighter future,” he said.
Protests sweeping Hong Kong are now heading into their fifth month, posing the greatest popular challenge against Mr Xi since he took power in 2012.
Such uprisings are never tolerated and instead suppressed in mainland China, though Hong Kong has long enjoyed greater freedoms. But many in the former British colony say the Communist Party is chipping away at the autonomy promised when it was returned to Beijing rule.
As the unrest has continued, unease has grown over whether Beijing will send in the military to restore order – a move that would be reminiscent of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 when soldiers fired on peaceful student demonstrators.
Despite Mr Xi’s remarks that Beijing would remain hands off in dealing with the protests, it emerged Monday that foreign envoys believed China had assembled its largest-ever active force of military troops and other anti-riot personnel in Hong Kong – estimated at as many as 12,000.
The addition had been explained away by Beijing in late August as a “routine” rotation of troops.
A build-up of military has also occurred in Shenzhen, a neighbouring Chinese city, with state media releasing videos of troops engaging in anti-riot drills, an ominous warning that soldiers were ready to deploy.
More of that posturing is coming as Mr Xi will preside over a massive military parade on Tuesday for China’s 70th anniversary celebrations, with plans to showcase 15,000 troops, 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment.
The parade is expected to include the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile. Billed as the world’s most powerful, the nuclear-capable missile is thought to be able to reach the US in 30 minutes.
Other equipment that will be seen for the first time include the DR-8 supersonic reconnaissance drones and the DF-17 hyper sonic missile, and the H-6N strategic bomber, all of which are designed to project Chinese power deep into the Pacific.
“They will go all out to demonstrate military capability and promote Xi Jinping as president for life. He will want a parade par-excellence,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank.
“The theme is anti-access and air denial capabilities, making more and more difficult for the US to project power into the Western Pacific,” he said.
“These systems are designed to achieve that.” The pageantry – and another speech expected from Mr Xi – is meant to underscore China’s global ambitions to become the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific region.
It lays claim to the democratic island of Taiwan, long regarded by Beijing as a runaway province, and the South China Sea.
The big showing is also aimed at stirring nationalist sentiments at a time the country faces a waning economy, bogged down by a protracted trade war with the US.
A large swathe of Beijing closed down Monday evening, with the authorities cutting radio signals and sealing roads along the planned parade route and its surroundings.
Dissidents have also been detained and placed under house arrest to ensure the festivities go off without a hitch. But China’s big birthday is set to be marred by multiple rallies planned in Hong Kong.
Protests over the weekend ended in multiple arrests and clouds of smoke from police shooting tear gas and activists throwing petrol bombs. Clashes have continued in recent days, with officers warning the public that Tuesday would likely turn “very, very violent,” said police superintendent John Tse. ends