Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong to mark the city’s 25th anniversary of its Handover from Britain to China.
The train carrying Xi and his wife pulled into West Kowloon Station on Thursday, greeted by chants of “welcome, welcome, warmly welcome” by revellers waving national and Hong Kong flags.
Banners hung from the ceiling and held up by attendees read “warmly welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping to celebrate Hong Kong’s 25th Handover anniversary and the inauguration of the sixth-term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.”
Outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam greeted the leader, walking alongside him along the red carpet as they waved and nodded to guests.
Chief Executive-elect John Lee, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, Legislative Council chairperson Andrew Leung and Executive Council Convener Bernard Chan were among the officials in attendance at the station.
A brass band played marching tunes, while the welcome chants continued.
The visit marks the first time that the Chinese leader has set foot outside of mainland China since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Standing before a podium in the station, Xi said he was “extremely happy” to be visiting in Hong Kong again after his last visit five years ago.
“In this five years, I have been concerned about and missing Hong Kong,” Xi said.
“Recently, Hong Kong has withstood serious tests and overcome risks and challenges one after another. Following the storms, Hong Kong was reborn… fully showing the strong vitality of [the] One Country, Two Systems framework,” he said.
The framework, he added, ensures Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.
“As long as we unswervingly adhere to One Country, Two Systems, Hong Kong’s future will only be more beautiful,” he added.
The days leading up to his visit were peppered with uncertainty over whether Xi would physically come to Hong Kong – the government said only that he would attend celebrations, but did not confirm whether he would come in person.
Xi is expected to meet government officials, including the current and incoming Principal Officials and Executive Council members, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. He will then reportedly tour Science Park in Sha Tin, which was closed off earlier on Thursday to accommodate his visit.
According to RTHK, police officers were deployed to Science Park – where cordons and barricades had been set up – to guard entrances and exits. Some officers patrolled the area on bicycles.
A dinner banquet expected to be held at Government House, where Chief Executive Carrie Lam lives, was cancelled due to Covid-19, Sing Tao reported.
A Hong Kong government statement said Lee and senior government officials would attend a flag-raising ceremony to celebrate the Handover on Friday. It did not mention whether Xi would attend.
Local media have reported that Xi will not stay in the city overnight, and instead will take the high speed railway to neighbouring Shenzhen before returning to Hong Kong tomorrow.
Hong Kong police have ramped up security ahead of Xi’s expected visit, with officers deployed on standby outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre and West Kowloon Station.
The Exhibition Centre MTR station will also be shut down on Thursday and Friday, while over 50 bus routes terminating at or passing through the area will be diverted.
Police will provide a motorcade escort and personal protection for Xi. The force was “duty-bound” to ensure the Chinese leader’s personal safety and security, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, Lui Kam-ho said on Tuesday.