Chinese leader Xi Jinping left mainland China on June 30 for the first time in 29 months to travel to Hong Kong, amid criticism from world officials about the regime’s suppression of the former British colony.
Xi’s visit is to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese Communist Party rule.
In a brief speech at the Hong Kong West Kowloon train station on June 30, Xi said Hong Kong had overcome many challenges over the years and had been “reborn from the ashes” with “vigorous vitality.” He later met with more than 160 officials and Beijing supporters.
The last time Xi visited the city was on July 1, 2017, when he swore in Carrie Lam as the city’s fourth leader. But unlike his previous trip, this time Xi didn’t have to face mass rallies, since most prominent pro-democracy activists—such as Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, who were part of the 2017 protest—are either behind bars or have been forced into exile.
Beijing implemented a draconian national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020 that wiped out dissent in the once-thriving global financial hub.
Police have ramped up security by closing high-speed rail terminals and other sites across the city ahead of Xi’s arrival. They have also designated security zones, sealed off roads, and enforced a no-fly zone for July 1.
More than 10 journalists from local and international media outlets had their applications to cover the July 1 events rejected earlier this week on “security grounds.”
Chinese authorities haven’t released the details of Xi’s schedule, but he’s likely to spend the night in Shenzhen, a neighboring mainland Chinese city, and return to Hong Kong the following day to attend the July 1 events.
On July 1, Xi is expected to attend the inauguration ceremony for the city’s new government, led by John Lee, a former security chief. Lee, like his predecessor, is on the U.S. sanctions list for curtailing the city’s autonomy and freedoms under the national security law.
The two-day visit also marks Xi’s first known trip outside mainland China in 2 1/2 years. The Chinese leader, poised to secure an unprecedented third term in office at an important party conclave this autumn, hasn’t stepped out of the country since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. The regime has implemented a strict “zero-COVID” policy in both the mainland and Hong Kong.
In preparation for Xi’s visit to Hong Kong, thousands of guests—including top officials, lawmakers, and diplomats—checked into quarantine hotels earlier this week and have taken daily nucleic acid tests as part of COVID-19 precautions.
Hong Kong has recently seen a rise in COVID-19 infections, with 2,358 COVID-19 cases registered on June 30.
Human Rights Criticism
The highly choreographed visit comes amid growing international condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) human rights abuses, such as the suppression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The latest criticism came from the Group of Seven leaders, which includes the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, and Japan. During a summit on June 28, the G-7 called on the CCP to honor its commitments by restoring the rights, freedom, and autonomy of Hong Kong.
The call on Beijing to uphold its international obligations was joined by the co-chairs of the Congressional–Executive Commission on China on June 30.
“On this 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, we stand with all those seeking to restore the democratic freedoms and lively civil society that made Hong Kong one of the world’s most vibrant cities,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) stated.
They noted that the Chinese regime has broken its promises in recent years by imposing a sweeping and draconian national security law and revamping the electoral system so that only Beijing loyalists can govern the city. Press freedom has also been curtailed, as independent news outlets, including the popular Apple Daily and Stand News, have been forcefully shuttered.
At least 10,500 Hongkongers have been arrested for political and protest-related offenses since June 2019, while more than 113 people are currently facing national security charges, according to the statement. As of January, at least 65 civil society organizations have disbanded or left the city for fear of persecution under the Beijing-imposed national security law, the chairs said, adding that the trend accelerated in the second half of 2021.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.