Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to commemorate the territory’s 25th anniversary of the British handover. Under his leadership, Hong Kong has gone from being a global center renowned for its political freedoms to one much more tightly controlled by the Communist Party.
John Lee, the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong, was sworn in by Xi on Friday as the Chinese president took his first known trip outside China in more than two years amid the COVID-19 outbreak. This was Xi’s first visit to the city since 2017.
Chanting “Welcome, welcome, warmly welcome” in Mandarin, children were waiting to receive Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan as they exited a high-speed train while wearing masks and waving flowers and the Chinese and Hong Kong flags.
“Hong Kong has withstood severe tests, again and again, overcoming challenges one by one,” Xi said. “After the wind and rain, Hong Kong has risen from the ashes,” Xi said.
While a police band performed, authorities organized a lion dance celebration, one of the most important traditions of Chinese New Year.
Police conducted stop-and-search inspections at the train station with the help of sniffer dogs, increasing security.
Some commentators view Xi’s visit as a victory trip.
John Burns, a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, said, “It is a celebration of the central government’s victory over the political opposition in Hong Kong.”
Following large-scale pro-democracy protests in 2019, Beijing reinforced its grip over Hong Kong by enacting a comprehensive national security law.
Red China flags and placards announcing a “new era” of stability were all over the city streets. During his most recent visit to Hong Kong, Xi urged the city to strengthen its national security measures and warned against any actions compromising China’s sovereignty.
Due to increased security in the city and the fact that the most vocal opposition lawmakers and democracy campaigners are either in jail or in self-exile, no protests were anticipated this time around, in contrast to the tens of thousands of demonstrators who marched during Xi’s visit five years ago.
The “one country, two systems” policy that allowed Hong Kong to return to Chinese sovereignty was intended to protect its freedoms, but critics claim that those liberties are eroding as Beijing tightens its grip.
The governments of Beijing and Hong Kong dispute that, claiming to have “restored order from chaos” for the benefit of the city.
This week, senior policeman Lui Kam-ho warned against any acts of violence or civil unrest. The more than 30,000-strong police force declared that it would use its best means to provide security for the festivities.
Police restricted access to certain areas of Hong Kong, blocked traffic, and enforced a no-fly zone over Victoria Harbour.
After receiving a warning from national security officials not to protest during President Xi Jinping’s visit, members of the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats said they would abandon their preparations for demonstrations.