HK celebrates return to motherland, eyes recovery with growth target between 3.5% to 5.5%
Published: Jul 01, 2023 03:19 PM Updated: Jul 01, 2023 06:28 PM
Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

Hong Kong celebrated the 26th anniversary of the city's return to the motherland on Saturday, as the city emerges from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil, with local government forecasting economic growth likely to reach 3.5 to 5.5 percent in 2023. 

At 8 am on Saturday, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government held a  flag-raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square, with the national anthem being sung by all present. The HKSAR government Chief Executive John Lee, and former CE Carrie Lam as well as Leung Chun-ying and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen attended the flag-raising ceremony, in addition to officials from key central government institutions in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong disciplinary forces performed Chinese-style foot drills at the ceremony. Several helicopters from the Flying Service hung the national and regional flags, flying over Victoria Harbor. Fire boats and marine police vessels paid tribute by spraying water opposite the Convention and Exhibition Center. 

During his speech at the reception to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland following the flag-raising ceremony, Lee said that the government is leading Hong Kong out of the shadow of the pandemic and is moving at full speed on a path to normalization.

"Hong Kong has overcome economic contraction, with economic growth of 2.7 percent in the first quarter of this year, reversing four consecutive quarters of decline. The number of visitors to Hong Kong in the first five months has already exceeded 10 million, and the tourism and consumption sectors are driving the normalization of Hong Kong's economy," Lee said. 

During his speech, Lee also mentioned the key points referenced by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visited Hong Kong at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the city's return to the motherland. Xi stressed that "one country, two systems" has been tested repeatedly in practice, and there is no reason for us to change such a good policy, and we must adhere to it in the long run.

Although Hong Kong's imports and exports are still relatively weak, and there are still uncertainties in the external environment, the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), the Greater Bay Area development, and the Belt and Road Initiative all provide Hong Kong with endless opportunities. Lee expects that this year's economic growth will return to positive territory, estimated to be around 3.5 to 5.5 percent.

As part of the HKSAR government's major policies, the city has stepped up efforts in attracting more talent from the mainland and the world over the past year. 

Lee anticipated that that the annual goal of attracting 35,000 talents will be met. The investment promotion department has assisted over 180 domestic and overseas companies in establishing or expanding their businesses in Hong Kong over the first five months of this year, representing a 30 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

July 1, 2023 is also the date from which vehicles with HKSAR license plates can now enter the mainland. The first vehicle entered Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province at 00:09 am. To date over 16,400 Hong Kong residents have filed an application for a permit.

The measure will also facilitate the business cooperation and people-to-people exchanges between Hong Kong and mainland, Lee said, noting that he has full confidence in the city's future. 

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong smoothly transitioned and successfully returned, washing away the century-long humiliation of the Chinese nation, Chan Yung, vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Saturday. 

"Looking back at the overall development over the past 26 years, although there have been many storms and challenges, under the care and support of the central government, the nation, and all the people, these have been successfully resolved and returned to the right track," Chan said, noting that we have quickly stepped into a new chapter from governance to prosperity.

Although the social order and stability have been restored in Hong Kong, Lee said we need to be prepared for possible risks. 

"It's clear that some countries are misjudging China's peaceful development and deliberately suppressing it, and there are also forces within Hong Kong that pose a threat with their 'soft resistance.' Therefore, we must remain vigilant," he said, calling on citizens to proactively safeguard national security.

Recently, a draft law on patriotic education was submitted to China's top legislature for first reading, which also set out requirements for enhancing the national identity of the people in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Starry Lee Wai-king, a member of the Standing Committee of the NPC, said on Saturday during the celebration that she believes that Hong Kong's progress in patriotism education has been very slow, and even off-track, in the past. "Now, it is necessary to catch up. Besides schools, there should also be comprehensive exposure to the country's history, culture, and latest developments for all residents," she said. 

Fred Li Wah-ming, the former member of Hong Kong Democratic Party, appeared to be the only representative from the city's opposition group to attend the ceremony, according to local media reports. Li said he hopes that more young people will participate in local district elections in the future.