Chinese leader Xi Jinping to attend Hong Kong handover celebration
Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend events to celebrate 25 years since Hong Kong’s handover to China, state media reported Saturday, with the Communist Party looking to showcase its control over the city after crushing a democracy movement.
If Xi attends in person, the trip would be his first outside of the Chinese mainland since the pandemic began. But state media and Hong Kong officials did not explicitly say whether he would travel to the city or attend virtually.
A trip would also coincide with the inauguration of Hong Kong’s new administration, led by former security chief John Lee.
The Chinese Communist Party places great importance on anniversaries, and Hong Kong’s handover presents Xi with an opportunity to emphasise China’s authority over Hong Kong after three years of political upheaval there.
Hong Kong is at the halfway point of the “One Country, Two Systems” political model, which promised that the former British colony’s way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years after its handover.
But a national security law imposed after huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 has seen dissent quashed, with scores of opposition figures arrested in an ongoing political crackdown.
The new Hong Kong government, to be sworn in on July 1, will be led by Lee, who oversaw the controversial police response to the democracy protests.
Lee on Saturday said he was delighted by the news of Xi’s attendance and thanked the Chinese leader for his “caring and support” for Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is at the crucial stage of advancing from chaos to governance, and gradually towards prosperity,” Lee said in a statement.
Xi last visited Hong Kong in 2017 to swear in city leader Carrie Lam, a three-day trip marked by heavy public police presence.
China’s top leaders have attended the swearing-in of every Hong Kong chief executive since the 1997 handover, but Xi has not left the mainland since January 2020, when the coronavirus first emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Ongoing virus outbreaks in both mainland China and Hong Kong have prompted doubts over whether Xi would risk travelling, with Beijing committed to a zero-Covid strategy.
State news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday that Xi “will attend a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland”, but did not specify whether it would be in person.
Two top officials in the incoming Hong Kong administration tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and had to go into quarantine.
Daily case numbers in Hong Kong have climbed to nearly 2,000, though hospitalisations have remained low, with outgoing city leader Lam earlier reassuring the public that the situation was “not an alarm bell”.
Hong Kong has its own version of zero-Covid, which has kept the international business hub isolated for much of the pandemic, but it is less strict than what is practised in the mainland.
The difference in policy means Hong Kongers coming into close contact with Chinese officials will likely be required to undergo quarantine.
Senior government officials have entered a “closed-loop” system to minimise infection risk ahead of their attendance of handover celebration events, according to local media.
Last month, Lee was chosen as Hong Kong’s leader by a small group of political elites, after being the sole candidate in the race and facing no opposition.
Xi and Lee have already met, when the latter travelled to Beijing to receive the central government’s blessing.
“I believe that the administration of the new government will definitely bring forth a new atmosphere, and compose a new chapter in Hong Kong’s development,” Xi said at the time, according to Xinhua.