HONG KONG — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday defended his vision of the “one country, two systems” framework against accusations by the US, UK and others that Beijing has undermined the freedoms and autonomy promised to Hong Kong for 50 years.

In a speech marking 25 years since the city became a semi-autonomous Chinese region following its handover from Britain in 1997, Xi said the “one country, two systems” framework—which allows Hong Kong to have its own laws and government—had achieved “universally recognized success.”

“There is no reason for such a good system to change, and it must be maintained for a long time,” he said, in what appeared to be an attempt to reassure residents that Hong Kong could retain their relative freedoms even after 50 years.

But Xi also emphasized that Beijing had “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong should respect Chinese leadership, even as Beijing allows regions like Hong Kong and Macao to maintain their capitalist system and a degree of autonomy.

He warned that there would be no tolerance for foreign interference or traitors to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs, and that “safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests” is of the highest priority.

Xi last visited Hong Kong in 2017 for the July 1 celebrations, during which he warned that there would be no tolerance for any activities seen as threatening China’s sovereignty and stability.

The months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 were seen by China’s ruling Communist Party as just such a threat.

Since the protests, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities drafted a national security law that was then used to arrest scores of activists, media figures and democracy supporters; introduced a more “patriotic” curriculum in schools; and revamped election laws to keep opposition politicians who are deemed not patriotic enough out of the city’s legislature. The changes have all but eliminated dissenting voices in the city and have driven many to leave.

On Friday, Xi also officiated the swearing-in ceremony of Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee, a former security official who oversaw the crackdown on dissent in the city since 2019 pro-democracy protests. Lee pledged to uphold the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and bear allegiance to Hong Kong. He also pledged to be accountable to the central government in Beijing.

The following are key events which marked the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule on Friday.

In 1841, the Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain after China’s defeat in the first Opium War. British administration began the next year.

In 1860, the colony grew after the Qing ceded Kowloon, a mountainous region opposite Hong Kong Island, to Britain after the second Opium War.

In 1898, Britain leased the New Territories, a large area around Kowloon, from China for 99 years, or until 1997. The lease also set the clock ticking on Hong Kong’s eventual return to Chinese rule.

In 1984, Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives the city its own economic and political system for 50 years. The Sino-British Joint Agreement is registered with the United Nations, although Beijing now says it is null and void and rejects any foreign criticism as meddling in its internal affairs.

In 1997, Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

In 2003, hundreds of thousands of citizens marched against proposed national security legislation that would have criminalized “subversion” against the Chinese government. The bill was subsequently withdrawn.

In 2014, protesters seeking direct elections for Hong Kong’s leader laid siege to government headquarters for 79 days but failed to win concessions.

In 2017, Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong on the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, during which he delivers a speech declaring Beijing will accept no opposition. Long-time civil servant and close Beijing ally Carrie Lam became Hong Kong’s chief executive with a mandate to enforce China’s will, while maintaining the city’s status as an international business hub.

In 2019, protests broke out over proposed legislation that could have seen Hong Kongers and foreign residents sent to mainland China for trials in a legal system beset with accusations of ill-treatment and forced confessions. While the bill was withdrawn, protests continued among mostly students and young people frustrated with a lack of representation and opportunities in one of the world’s most economically divided cities. (AP)