A multi-million dollar programme of events in Hong Kong will mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain, but critics say the show is out of step with political tensions.
The large-scale celebrations come despite increased concerns over Beijing meddling in the semi-autonomous city and deep political divisions between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy and pro-China camps.
China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to visit for the July 1 anniversary, with security exercises under way in preparation.
Hundreds of events, from art exhibitions to sports tournaments, will take place between now and the end of the year as part of the festivities, with the government proposing to spend HK$640 million ($82 million).
Coloured lights and rainbow posters already adorn local neighbourhoods under the slogan “Together, Progress, Opportunity”.
An official video of Canto pop stars performing a new song “Hong Kong, our home” is frequently broadcast on television networks.
The city’s unpopular outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying said the celebrations reflected the city’s “vision of tomorrow”, and aimed to engage all residents.
“The handover to me is historically significant and worth commemorating because Hong Kong is originally a part of China,” a 51-year-old resident who gave his name as Michael said.
Retiree Ah Yu, 76, agreed.
“The (anniversary) is important for Hong Kong because we are all Chinese,” he said.
But others were sceptical.
“Are we celebrating the fact that we don’t have freedom and have no democracy?” 67-year-old Ales Li asked.
“Why don’t they use all these resources to mend divisions?”
The agreement made between Britain and China in 1997 was designed to secure Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, protecting its freedoms and way of life for 50 years.
But Beijing stands accused of undermining the deal, triggering protests and a fledgling independence movement.
Some young residents told AFP they felt the celebrations were simply a stunt.
“It isn’t really helpful…