SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China, state news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday (June 25).
The trip will be Mr Xi’s first known visit outside mainland China since January 2020 and after the Covid-19 outbreak.
He will also attend the inaugural ceremony of the sixth-term government of Hong Kong, Xinhua added.
Mr John Lee will become the city’s new leader on July 1, replacing Mrs Carrie Lam, who oversaw some of the territory’s most tumultuous times with anti-government protests and Covid-19.
Mr Xi also oversaw the swearing-in of Mrs Lam in 2017, when he was in Hong Kong to celebrate the handover anniversary last time.
Mr Lee on Saturday said he was delighted by the news of Mr Xi’s attendance and thanked the Chinese leader for his “caring and support” for Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is at the crucial stage of advancing from chaos to governance, and gradually towards prosperity,” Mr Lee said in a statement.
Uncertainties over whether Mr Xi would visit Hong Kong grew in the past weeks as new Covid-19 infections increased in the city, with two incoming senior officials among the latest cases.
China adopts stringent Covid-19 policies and travel restrictions which aim to eradicate all outbreaks, running counter to a global trend of trying to co-exist with the virus.
Critics said Hong Kong's 25th handover anniversary is significant to China which sees the city stabilising from the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, after the implementation of the national security law, and electoral reforms that ensure only "patriots" can work in the government and law-making body.
A former top policeman turned civil servant, Mr Lee has pledged to maintain a firm grip on the city under the security law, in line with China’s sovereign interests.
Britain took Hong Kong Island during the First Opium War (1839-42) and later signed a treaty that gave it control over the adjoining New Territories for 99 years. That agreement ended on July 1, 1997.