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Hong Kong has risen from the ashes and overcome severe challenges, China’s president Xi Jinping said as he arrived in the city in a rare visit to mark 25 years of the handover of the former British colony.
It was the Chinese leader’s first visit outside mainland China since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 as he remained hunkered down in a virus-free bubble.
He arrived in Hong Kong for a two-day, tightly scripted visit to reinforce the Chinese government’s authority over the city amid high-security cover with 30,000 additional deployments of the police force, blocked roads and no-fly zones.
“Hong Kong has withstood severe tests again and again, overcoming challenges one by one,” Mr Xi said. “After the wind and rain, Hong Kong has risen from the ashes.”
His comments appeared to be in reference to the massive pro-democracy protests in the country and the sweeping security law Beijing imposed in 2020 that cracked down on dissent after those anti-government demonstrations.
The Chinese leader said his “heart is always with Hong Kong” in his short speech and that the city’s “one country, two systems” formula is to ensure its prosperity and stability.
Mr Xi arrived on a high-speed train with his wife, Peng Liyuan, and was greeted by children waving flowers and Chinese flags.
Mr Xi wore a face mask throughout the event, except when giving his speech from a distance from the crowd and did not shake hands or hug anyone.
The government has not released his itinerary but Mr Xi is expected to swear in the global financial hub’s new leader, John Lee, on Friday as outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam’s term will end on 30 June.
Authorities in Hong Kong made elaborate preparations and Mr Xi remained in a closed-loop bubble to try to keep the virus away.
His decision to come out of the safety bubble in China and arrive in a city that has been reporting thousands of community virus cases is an example of his determination to reaffirm Beijing’s control over the former British colony, which previously enjoyed autonomy.
He arrived to mark the 25 years of handover from British rule. This is the halfway point of 50 years, the timeframe that China promised to protect democratic freedom and maintain Hong Kong’s liberal institutions under a framework called “one country, two systems”.
The UK and other countries have accused China of violating the agreement that was reached during the handover.
“It is a celebration of the central government’s victory over the political opposition in Hong Kong,” said John Burns, a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong.
During his last visit to the city in 2017, Mr Xi had warned Hong Kongners against any acts endangering China’s sovereignty and said challenges to China’s rule were “absolutely impermissible”.
After he left, tens of thousands of demonstrators had marched to protest. But this year the atmosphere is different and no protests are expected amid the strict national security law.
Senior Hong Kong police officer Lui Kam-ho warned against any acts of violence or public disorder during the premier’s visit.
To tighten security, police have deployed more than 30,000 personnel, closed parts of Hong Kong, blocked roads and enforced a no-fly zone over Victoria Harbour.