Xi is expected to spend two days in the financial center and attend a series of official events to celebrate the July 1 handover and the opening ceremony for Beijing’s incoming incoming leader John Lee, a former police officer and security chief.
In the nearly 900 days since Xi left the mainland on January 17, 2020, his diplomatic activities have been limited to virtual summits and video conferences, adding special significance to his trip to Hong Kong.
Xi arrived in the city on Thursday afternoon, on a high-speed train from the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, where he was met by a large crowd waving national flags and chanting in unison: “Hello, hello, a warm welcome.”
He was then escorted along the red carpet, where colorful lions dancers performed, adding to the noise of drumming, chanting and trumpeting.
Xi welcomed for the first time outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her top officials. After exchanging a few words, Xi and his delegation slowly made their way through the station, waving to the crowd and talking to the other officials present.
In a short speech afterward, Xi said, “It has been more than five years since my last visit to Hong Kong. Over the past five years, I have been paying close attention and interest to Hong Kong.”
“Over the past few years, Hong Kong has withstood one rigorous test after another, overcoming one danger after another. After weathering the storms, Hong Kong has emerged from the ashes with great vitality.”
Leaving the covid bubble
“If we calculate the total costs and benefits, our policies on the Covid virus are the most economical and effective,” Xi said, adding that China has the ability to continue its non-proliferation approach “until the final victory.”
Before Xi’s visit, Hong Kong imposed a set of COVID restrictions. As of last week, senior officials were banned from attending public events and restricted to using private vehicles on the go. They have also been tested daily for the Covid virus, and must spend Thursday night in a quarantine hotel before Friday’s handover ceremony.
Arrival in a changing city
The last time Xi visited Hong Kong to celebrate the handover was in 2017, marking the 20th anniversary, when he met streets filled with pro-democracy protesters.
The subsequent crackdown has seen nearly all prominent pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong, including activists and politicians, either imprisoned or forced into exile.
Of the remaining organizations, none had applied for permits to hold peaceful protests during Xi’s trip, according to police. The League of Social Democrats, one of the few remaining pro-democracy political parties, said it would not organize any protests after several members met with the National Security Police.
Hong Kong’s government has repeatedly defended the national security law, saying it has restored order to the city, which was rocked by pro-democracy and anti-government protests in 2019.
Places closed, no-fly zone
The police have reinforced security measures and closed off areas close to the main places, not taking any chances. Pedestrian bridges, highways and one train station in some of Hong Kong’s busiest areas were temporarily closed on Thursday and Friday.
A no-fly zone has also been established across the city’s port, with the use of drones restricted throughout Xi’s visit.
According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), at least 10 journalists working for local and international organizations have been turned down for “security reasons”.
“With the media unable to send journalists on the ground, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Syndicate deeply regrets the strict explanatory arrangements made by the authorities for such a major event,” the press group said on Tuesday.
CNN’s Kathleen Magramo contributed to this report.
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