Protesters will march through Hong Kong on the 15th anniversary of the city’s return to China this July 1, as Chinese President Hu Jintao presides over the inauguration of the city’s new leader Leung Chun-ying.
As many as 100,000 people may join the march through the city’s Central district to the government headquarters as Hu attends the swearing in of former property surveyor Leung, according to James Sung, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.
The worst income gap since records were kept in 1971, along with close ties between government officials and tycoons, have stoked public anger in the run-up to Hong Kong’s leadership transition. Beijing’s effort to integrate the city’s economy more closely with the mainland’s has also raised fears that Hong Kong is losing its independence.
“People believe that the government hasn’t been able to do anything” to help improve their lives, said Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong. “That the government refuses to act because it has been too eager to please the big businesses. This distrust has spilled over to the new administration.”
Hu arrived in Hong Kong today and lauded the “major achievements” since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997. The Chinese president said he wants to tour the city to understand residents’ lives and expectations.
The annual protest is a gauge of public opinion in city, which is governed by a chief executive picked by a panel comprisig billionaires, lawmakers and professionals. Protesters will call on Leung to introduce plans for full democracy in 2017, and seek an end to interference in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs by the Chinese government, Eric Lai, a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, said in an interview.
Distrust of the Chinese government by the Hong Kong public rose to the highest level since May 1997, according to a poll conducted between June 4 and 12 by the University of Hong Kong. The survey of 1,003 adults showed that 37 percent said they didn’t trust Beijing.
“Leung has never made any promises on when will he start reforms on democratization,” Lai said.
The demonstration highlights the challenges Leung faces in balancing demands for greater economic integration with China and maintaining independence for the city’s 7.1 million residents. While China has promised universal suffrage for the city by the end of Leung’s term in 2017, a detailed road map hasn’t been drawn.
Concerns for human rights in China, stoked by the death of dissident Li Wangyang and the treatment of blind activist Chen Guangcheng, may spur more people to take part in the march, said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
“As the relationship between China and Hong Kong gets closer, if China’s political situation deteriorates, it is hard to expect there will be improvements in Hong Kong,” Lee said.
Leung, 57, will be sworn in at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center as the last leader picked by the panel after a flag raising ceremony at 8 a.m., with Hu a guest of honor. Protesters will start their march at 3 p.m.
The city will mark the handover anniversary with fireworks, a performance by paratroopers from the People’s Liberation Army, and a show with performances by celebrities including actor Jackie Chan.
Public trust in Hong Kong government officials has also taken a knock this year with a corruption probe under way involving former chief secretary Rafael Hui. Leung’s predecessor Donald Tsang is under investigation for taking rides on planes and yachts with tycoon friends.
Leung also faces criticism from some lawmakers after it was found that a basement, a gate and other structures were built at his house without permits. Leung has apologized and started removing the illegal additions.
“Normally people have a bit of a honeymoon period after their election,” said Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at the Hong Kong Baptist University. “If this is the honeymoon, wow, I think we’re going have a rocky marriage here.”