HONG KONG >> Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong ahead of the 25th anniversary of the British handover and after a two-year transformation bringing the city more tightly under Communist Party control. It is Xi’s first trip outside of mainland China in nearly 2 ½ years.
Supporters at the train station waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags chanted “Welcome, welcome! Warm welcome!” as Xi’s train pulled into the station on Thursday.
Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were welcomed by the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, as they alighted the train. Xi waved at the supporters who welcomed him on the platform.
Elsewhere in the train station, supporters stood on either side of a red carpet, also waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags. Some held up banners welcoming Xi and a lion dance performance was held.
Xi is expected to speak about Hong Kong’s future at a ceremony Friday marking the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.
Under his leadership, China has reshaped Hong Kong in the past two years, cracking down on protest and freedom of speech and introducing a more patriotic curriculum in schools. The changes have all but eliminated opposition voices and driven many to leave.
Hong Kong and nearby Macao are special administrative regions that are governed separately from the rest of China, known as the Chinese mainland.
Xi has not left China since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. China has maintained a strict “zero-COVID” policy that aims to keep the virus out. Xi’s last overseas trip was to Myanmar in January 2020.