Hong Kong Shows Warmth To Mainland in Torch Relay

Flag-waving spectators enthusiastically greet the Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong, where there was little dissent.
Flag-waving spectators enthusiastically greet the Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong, where there was little dissent. (By Vincent Yu -- Associated Press)
By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 3, 2008

HONG KONG, May 2 -- Despite an intermittent drizzle, tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens and visitors donned celebratory red and turned out with Chinese flags Friday to cheer on the Olympic torch relay and drown out demonstrators.

The overwhelmingly enthusiastic crowds that shouted "Go, China!" and welcomed the torch back onto Chinese soil were in stark contrast to the international controversy that has dogged the flame on its troubled tour of 21 other cities.

The few China critics who turned out in Hong Kong were heckled by large groups of supporters, including visitors from the mainland who hurled insults in Mandarin rather than the local Cantonese dialect. As 119 torchbearers carried the flame through the territory for seven hours by foot, horseback, dragon boat and ferry, huge roars of approval rose from camera-wielding crowds.

The protests, mostly at the start of the relay on the Kowloon side of the city, were peaceful and without incident. One man raised a homemade sign that said "Don't Olympicize Politics." On the other side, someone held up a sign that said "Tibet Is a Part of China."

A heavy police presence and fenced barriers kept people from walking into the street and possibly disrupting the relay. Some protesters were escorted into the dozens of police vans deployed along the route -- for their own protection, police said.

University student Chan Hau-an wrapped herself in the banned flag of the Tibetan independence movement as China supporters jostled with police who had surrounded her. As she waved or raised the flag, a witness said, police wrestled her to the ground and put her in a police van.

"What right do they have to take me away? I have a right to express my opinion," Chan, 21, told the Associated Press.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is proud of its lively and relatively free press, at least compared with that of the mainland. Hong Kong operates under a "one country, two systems" policy that permits pro-democracy demonstrations and has even allowed the banned Falun Gong religious movement to set up information tables near a downtown ferry terminal.

"We are a world in a city, where different people with different beliefs and different views have thrived in a spirit of diversity, tolerance and respect," said Hong Kong's chief executive, Donald Tsang, kicking off the relay Friday morning.

Not far away, crammed between masses of spectators, a small group of free-speech protesters held signs and orange balloons meant to symbolize support for improved human rights in China.

"We all share the same dream," said Albert Ho, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, who was among the group. "We all support the same goal of freedom and democracy."

Across the street, a student visiting from Shenzhen, a mainland city just north of Hong Kong, simply ignored the group. "I love China, I'm Chinese and I'm cheering for the Olympics," said Yang Siqi, 21, who like many in the crowd was also there to see her favorite Cantonese pop star, Andy Lau. "In China, you can also say what you want, but you can't say bad things about China and you won't be able to do it publicly."

Actress and activist Mia Farrow, in Hong Kong on Friday, spoke about atrocities in Darfur and called on China, a major trading partner with Sudan, to do more to pressure Khartoum to end the violence.

"Chinese oil revenues, which now top $2 billion a year, have been used by the Sudanese government to purchase attack helicopters, bombers and a steady flow of arms and ammunition, all used against the civilians in Darfur," Farrow said.

While Beijing has appointed a special envoy to Darfur and voted to authorize sending peacekeepers to the region, it has not used its leverage to stop Sudan from continuing to block international aid efforts, Farrow said, before lighting a torch in front of a Hong Kong government office building, the last stop of a symbolic "alternate" torch relay aimed at calling attention to Darfur's victims.

"How can China host the Olympic Games at home while underwriting genocide in Darfur?" she asked.


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