HONG KONG – It wasn’t just the dark-suited delegates in Beijing who were listening intently last week as Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his grand ambitions to launch a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress.
On China’s peripheries there was apprehension and optimism as Xi, China’s strongest leader in decades, reasserted his authority over semiautonomous Hong Kong and self-governing Taiwan.
Xi declared that Hong Kong, where residents are increasingly divided over Beijing’s rule of the former British colony, and Taiwan, where voters elected an independence-leaning president last year amid rising alienation from the mainland, are part of a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” led by the Communist Party.
Here’s a look at what people on the two islands told The Associated Press about the party congress:
THE ANXIOUS BUSINESSMAN
Businessman Ringo Lee believes President Xi Jinping must talk with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen to encourage better ties across the Taiwan Strait.
Companies like his travel agency depend on it. The company brings mainland Chinese tourists to Taiwan and also sends Taiwanese tourists to the mainland.
Travel and tourism-related companies need good “cross-strait” relations, Lee said. But because of strained ties in recent years, “the number of Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan has dropped,” said Lee, 45.
“Xi Jinping’s task in his second term is to make Taiwanese people feel that China is a friendly nation,” Lee said.
Christophe Chan feels Xi has done little over the past five years to improve relations with Taiwan, a democracy that Beijing views as a renegade province.
Like many younger residents, he believes Beijing should give up on its claim that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory.
“Taiwan and China are two different countries. This is a political fact that must not be neglected,” said Chan, a supporter of 2014’s student-led Sunflower Movement protests that opposed a trade agreement with Beijing and closer ties with the mainland.
Only when China has “faced the truth about Taiwan, and recognizes it as a democratic and sovereign entity,” can “both countries engage in friendly dialogue and exchange,” said Chan, 38.
Chan disapproves of the Communist Party’s hard-line governance under Xi. “We are used to calling China a superpower, or even a great country,” but the party’s policies in recent years suggest otherwise, he said.
“China is cracking down on human rights,” Chan said.
THE PRO-BEIJING RETIREE
For retiree Fan Li, the most important thing is whether China’s leaders can improve the livelihoods of people in Hong Kong.
“In the last 10 years, China’s leaders — Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Xi Jinping — have all introduced different policies to support the development of Hong Kong,” said Li, 70.
Li believes China’s leaders will successfully steer the city’s future economic development as they have done for the mainland.
He cited Beijing’s big projects like the “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project, which aims to better connect China, Europe and Africa, and another aimed at helping Hong Kong’s integration with the wealthy, industrialized neighboring mainland province of Guangdong.
He believes that Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers hindered the city’s economic development.
“When some people constantly oppose policies for the sake of opposition, they delay progress,” he said.
“Take Shenzhen,” Li said, referring the mainland boomtown next door to Hong Kong. “In the last 20 to 30 years, it has grown rapidly from a small village to the large, vibrant city that it is today.” Hong Kong’s development has stalled in comparison, he believes, because of “internal problems.”
THE DISILLUSIONED STUDENT
College student Lee Chan, 21, believes the party’s policies have done little to address problems faced by Hong Kong’s young.
Disillusioned about their chances of social mobility and struggling to find affordable housing, many have given up on their dreams, he said.
But an even greater worry is the Communist Party’s increasing encroachment on political liberties like freedom of speech. “Many people will complain about economic problems such as high property prices, or the rising cost of chicken and vegetables,” he said, “but are unaware that our political freedoms are gradually eroding.”
Hong Kong’s prosperity as an international finance hub is underpinned by these freedoms, which are now being compromised, he said.
“Booksellers have been detained and sent back to the mainland via illegal means,” he said. “Hong Kong people face greater threats, in particular when it comes to their political rights.”
His outlook is bleak.
“Maybe one day, we will not be able to organize on the streets, express our viewpoints, publish books, criticize the government, or express what we believe to be right and just,” said Lee. “The values that define Hong Kong will no longer exist.”
THE OPTIMISTIC STUDENT
Jackel Wan, 19, is optimistic about relations between Hong Kong and the mainland and thinks the good atmosphere will continue under Xi’s leadership.
Beijing’s policies haven’t significantly touched Kui’s personal life and he believes the freedoms he enjoys remain intact.
“I can still study freely. I still have freedom of speech. Hong Kong is still under the framework of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ and still under the Basic Law,” he said, referring to a special formula and mini-constitution Beijing promised after the 1997 handover from Britain. They guarantee the city’s wide autonomy and civil liberties unseen on the mainland.
Kui believes Beijing’s tough line on rising dissent in the city is appropriate, a stance at odds with many other young people, including those who helped spearhead huge 2014 pro-democracy protests. He said calls for Hong Kong independence by a small but vocal minority on college campuses and elsewhere are unrealistic.
“They are doing the right thing to keep the situation under control,” Kui said of China.
Taijing Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.