President Xi Jinping presided over a grand display of China’s strength in Beijing -- declaring that no force could stop the country’s rise -- even as concerns grew over the condition of the first protester shot in Hong Kong after almost four months of unrest.
Speaking at the start of a grand parade marking 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic, Xi called for stability in Hong Kong, unity among Chinese ethnic groups, and the “complete unification" of the country. Xi delivered the remarks at the site where late Communist Party patriarch Mao Zedong proclaimed the nation’s founding on Oct. 1, 1949.
“Today, a socialist China is standing in the east of the world and there is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation," Xi told a crowd of carefully vetted guests under smoggy skies in the center of the capital. “No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation from forging ahead."
Xi’s rallying cry came before an hours-long pageant showcasing China’s industrial and scientific achievements, including sophisticated weaponry such as DF-17 ballistic missiles believed capable of circumventing U.S. defense systems. The tightly choreographed proceedings sought to reinforce the strength of a party facing multiple threats, from Donald Trump’s trade war and slowing economic growth to violent unrest in one of Asia’s top financial hubs.
“Beijing is keenly aware that as this celebration of China’s defense investments and capabilities are underway, there’s a direct challenge to China’s national unity in Hong Kong," said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow in Asia Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. “Clearly today is a sort of a pinnacle, the key opportunity for the protest movement to demonstrate that they don’t accept Beijing’s sovereignty, they don’t accept the legitimacy of the Communist Party, they don’t accept their own government."
Even before the parade ended, pro-democracy protesters had begun gathering in several neighborhoods around Hong Kong, with crowds at one point growing into the tens of thousands. Some demonstrators lit fires, built barricades, scrawled anti-China graffiti on buildings and clashed with police who fired tear gas and swung clubs to disperse them.
An 18-year-old protester was shot near in the left shoulder during scuffles with riot police in the northwestern area of Tsuen Wan, Police Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu said in a video released on Facebook late Tuesday. The man was conscious when he was taken to the hospital, Yu said.
Although police have drawn their weapons and fired warning shots into air during recent protests, this was the first confirmed case of a demonstrator being shot. The police officers’ lives were “under serious threat" and protesters ignored warnings, Yu said.
Demonstrations have rocked the city since early June, triggered by proposed legislation allowing extraditions to China before morphing into a broader push back against Beijing’s grip. In his most extensive comments on Hong Kong since unrest began, Xi said the “one country, two systems" principle under which the city has been governed since its return from British rule in 1997 must be upheld.
But the unrest underscored growing uneasiness with Xi’s style of rule, with U.S. lawmakers threatening sanctions over the government’s handling of Hong Kong and China’s mass detention of ethnic Uighurs. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council -- controlled by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party -- issued a statement condemning China’s “one party dictatorship."
“China’s call for unified struggle, a great rejuvenation and unification is just an excuse for military expansion," the agency said. “It severely threatens regional peace and global democracy and civilization."
In Hong Kong, the government canceled a fireworks show and toned down celebrations to avoid disruption by protesters. Numerous malls and more than 20 of the city’s 91 train stations, which have become a focal point of demonstrations, were shut Tuesday to keep people from gathering there.
“We wanted to come out today to show the world and also the Chinese government that we’re not afraid of their power," a 25-year-old man who gave the surname Wong and works in finance said Tuesday while protesting downtown. “We want to tell them that we are here to fight for our own freedom."
While leader Carrie Lam was celebrating the festivities in Beijing, her deputy Matthew Cheung said China continued to be “fully supportive" of the city’s government. Lam, who had tried to push the bill through before protests erupted, assumed responsibility for the “entire unrest" as she held her first community dialogue event last week.
Although Lam has withdrawn the bill that sparked the protests, she continues to refuse demonstrators’ other demands, including an independent commission of inquiry into the unrest, amnesty for charged protesters and restarting the process of allowing direct elections for her successors.
“We’re here to once again tell the government that we want our five demands, not one less on this very day China is celebrating the 70th anniversary," said Johnny Man, 27, as he watched a protest pass earlier Tuesday. “It’s pretty much expected that the government would not further respond to our demands, but we are not giving up. We are here to express ourselves."