Chinese leader Xi Jinping has left mainland China for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, arriving in Hong Kong Thursday ahead of the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
Xi is expected to spend two days in the financial hub and attend a series of official events to mark both the July 1 handover and the inauguration ceremony of the city’s next Beijing appointed leader John Lee, a former police officer and security chief.
In the almost 900 days since Xi last left the mainland on January 17, 2020, his diplomatic activities have been limited to virtual summits and video conferences, lending particular significance to his Hong Kong trip.
Xi was first greeted by Hong Kong’s departing Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her top officials. After exchanging a few words, Xi and his delegation slowly made their way through the station, waving to the crowd and speaking with other officials present.
Xi arrived in the city Thursday afternoon, via high-speed train from the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, whereupon he was met by a large crowd waving national flags and chanting in unison: “Welcome, welcome, a warm welcome.”
He was then led along a red carpet, as colorful lion dancers performed, adding to the din of drumming, chanting and trumpets.
“It has been more than five years since my last visit to Hong Kong. Over the past five years, I have been paying close attention to Hong Kong and caring about it,” said Xi in a short speech afterward.
“Over the past few years, Hong Kong has withstood one severe test after another and overcome one risk and challenge after another. After weathering the storms, Hong Kong has emerged from the ashes with vigorous vitality.”