Xi to visit HK for handover anniversary celebrations

Chinese President Xi Jinping is to visit Hong Kong - for the first time since coming to power in 2012 - for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the city's handover to China from British rule.

His visit next week comes at a time of fraught relations between the central government and the people of Hong Kong, who fear Beijing's squeezing of their city's autonomy, guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" principle.

Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post yesterday quoted sources as saying that Mr Xi's visit, from next Thursday to Saturday, is confirmed. While the trip had been widely expected, there had not been any confirmation till now. The Post reported that the visit was shrouded in secrecy because of security reasons, with the city to be placed under a "massive security blanket" against the threat of global terrorism.

Mr Xi's visit is packed with activities, including a tour of the People's Liberation Army garrison and a high- profile infrastructure project that is under construction - either the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge or the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, both of which are mired in controversy over costs and other issues.

He will attend a variety show on Friday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover and the swearing-in of the new Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her Cabinet the following day. Both events will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the venue of the handover ceremony in 1997 on July 1.

The Post quoted the sources as saying the packed itinerary gave Mr Xi no time to visit a local family or neighbourhood, which his predecessors had done. However, his wife Peng Liyuan, who will be travelling with him, will meet residents of an old folks' home on Friday.

More than a third of the city's 29,000-strong police force is expected to be deployed round the clock, the Post reported. The day before Mr Xi's arrival, the "flying tigers", divers from the force's elite Special Duty Squad, will make an underwater security sweep of the waters off Wan Chai, where the convention centre is.

But this will not deter some Hong Kong activists from planning protests, including pro-independence activist Chan Ho Tin, who will hold a rally on Friday in Tsim Sha Tsui, across the harbour from the convention centre, to mourn Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.

This reflects growing unhappiness among some Hong Kongers over what they see as the curtailing of their freedoms and growing intervention in their city's politics by Beijing. Some moves that worry them are Beijing's blueprint for the city's electoral reforms, which was viewed as too restrictive, giving rise to the Occupy protests in 2014, and its interpretation of the Basic Law that disqualified two pro-independence lawmakers.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Xi to visit HK for handover anniversary celebrations'. Print Edition | Subscribe