BEIJING (AP) — Cannons roared, bands played and fighter jets soared overhead as thousands of carefully selected participants gathered in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square Thursday for a ceremony marking the centenary of the ruling Communist Party.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong held its own annual commemorations of its 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, given added significance this year by the party centenary and the arrests of political activists and journalists following Beijing's imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city last year.
Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping delivered a lengthy address to the Beijing crowd from atop Tiananmen Gate, where Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, praising the party’s successes and warning of dire consequences for any foreign force that sought to “bully, oppress or enslave” the country.
Dressed in a grey, high-buttoned suit of the type worn by Mao, Xi didn’t identify whom he was referring to, but the party centenary comes amid rising tensions with the U.S., Britain, the European Union and China's Asian neighbors with whom it has territorial disputes.
Xi also called for further development of China’s military, the world’s largest, and reiterated Beijing’s determination to bring self-governed Taiwan under its control, receiving extended applause from the soldiers, officials, military musicians and others seated on the vast square.
Celebrations in Hong Kong were more muted, although city officials ensured that Chinese national flags were on display and the logo of the centenary celebration was plastered on buses and trams.
While the territory’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, attended the festivities in Beijing, her deputy, Chief Secretary John Lee, said the national security law stipulates that human rights be respected and allows residents to enjoy freedom of the press and free assembly — despite a ban on large-scale protests, the arrest of political critics and the closure of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily after journalists and executives were detained and funds frozen.
On Thursday morning, a group of four activists marched through city streets calling for the release of people imprisoned for involvement in opposition politics.
Police sealed off Victoria Park — until recently the site of annual pro-democracy rallies marking the 1997 handover — and put up flags warning people that they could be prosecuted if they enter or remain in the enclosed area.