China's President Xi Jinping has promised the smooth running of the "one country, two systems" framework for Hong Kong, and gave the assurance it would be "carried forward" as the city marks the 20th anniversary of its handover back to Chinese rule tomorrow.
In a speech delivered on the tarmac of the Hong Kong International Airport after landing in the city, Mr Xi said the central government in Beijing has been a strong pillar for the city since 1997, and will continue to support its development.
Mr Xi's visit - he was last here in 2008 when he was vice-president - comes at a time of rising discontent among Hong Kongers over the lack of a free election system and over socio-economic problems such as income disparity and unaffordable housing.
In his speech, Mr Xi listed three reasons for his three-day visit, which will see him inaugurate the fifth administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre tomorrow.
First, he said, he wanted to convey his wishes to Hong Kong.
Second, he wanted to show the central government's support for the city. "The central government has been a strong pillar for Hong Kong in the past two decades, and we will continue to support the city's developments and improvement of livelihood," he said.
Third, he wanted to reassure Hong Kongers that he would ensure the smooth running of the city under the "one country, two systems" agreement, and "carry it forward".
Hong Kong's outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, his successor Carrie Lam and Mr Tung Chee Hwa, who served as the city's first chief executive, were at the airport to welcome Mr Xi and his wife, Madam Peng Liyuan.
"Hong Kong has always had a place in my heart," Mr Xi said.
"In two days, it will mark the 20th anniversary of its return to China. It is a big occasion, a happy occasion for both the country and Hong Kong," he added.
The Chinese leader's first visit in the city yesterday was to the West Kowloon Cultural District site. He also witnessed the signing of a deal between Beijing and Hong Kong on setting up the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Scheduled to open in 2022, it will house relics loaned by the Palace Museum in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Madam Peng visited a kindergarten in Kowloon Tong, where she was greeted by more than 1,000 young children, some of whom performed for her.
Mr Leung hosted a banquet for Mr Xi and Madam Peng at Government House last night.
Today, Mr Xi will inspect the local garrison of the People's Liberation Army and attend a variety show in the evening.
Security is tight in the city, with close to 10,000 police officers being deployed each day and supported by a massive air and sea operation. Roads around the venues of major events will be closed off.
On Wednesday night, police arrested at least 26 activists at Golden Bauhinia Square, where Mr Xi will watch the raising of China's national flag tomorrow. This will be followed by the inauguration of Mrs Lam as the new chief executive. She received 777 votes from a 1,194-member Election Committee in March.
The city has put up thousands of China and Hong Kong flags to welcome Mr Xi, and a fireworks display costing a record HK$12 million (S$2.1 million) has also been planned for the commemoration.
But not all Hong Kongers are in a celebratory mood, with several protests held this week.
Last night, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China held a candlelight vigil calling for the release of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is on medical parole for cancer treatment. The pro-democracy lawyer was jailed for inciting subversion of state powers in 2009.
"Dozens of people have written to the President to call for the release of Mr Liu. If he can grant our wish tonight, he would have made the 20th anniversary celebration really memorable," said undergraduate Michael Lam, 21.