Chinese President Xi Jinping took his first venture outside of mainland China since the Covid pandemic began in January 2020, arriving in Hong Kong.
Xi’s visit to Hong Kong came on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the former UK colony’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
China took control over Hong Kong after pro-democracy protests in 2019-2020. China has been accused of crushing Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Before the handover, China promised to protect democratic freedoms for 50 years in the special administrative region. But new laws were introduced in 2020 that effectively silenced all criticism in the territory.
The government in Beijing can veto changes to the political system, and pro-democracy forces have been frustrated with the slow pace of political reform.
Security services were on heightened alert for Xi’s two-day trip. No-fly zones were imposed over large areas, and the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong of its combat readiness.
In a brief speech, Xi said: “Over the past few years, Hong Kong has experienced great challenges and won the battle against many tests and obstacles.”
“Hong Kong has risen from the ashes,” Xi said.
The Chinese president said that as long as there was a “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong will have a brighter future.
There typically used to be large pro-democracy protests on the annual July 1 handover anniversary. But since the imposition of a strict national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020, there have not been as big of protests.
It is expected that Xi’s visit will be free of protests, because democracy activists were warned by officials to stay at home, and many opposition figures already are in jail or exile.
The last time Xi visited Hong Kong was in 2017. After mass protests in the summer of 2019, Beijing imposed the sweeping national security law in 2020, which has been described by Western countries as “grave and deeply disturbing.” Many pro-democracy advocates and politicians have been arrested under the law.