HONG KONG (AFP) - President Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong next week to mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain, local media said, in a trip that will be incendiary to activists.
Although widely expected, officials have not so far said whether Mr Xi will make the trip, his first to Hong Kong since becoming president in 2013, if confirmed.
The South China Morning Post reported for the first time on Friday (June 23) that Mr Xi's visit had been "confirmed", citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the trip.
It comes at a time when Beijing stands accused of squeezing the semi-autonomous city's freedoms and frustrations have led to the emergence of a new independence movement calling for Hong Kong to break from the mainland.
Protesters say they are preparing to gather during the handover celebrations and Mr Xi's visit will be shrouded in a huge security operation.
His itinerary includes touring the garrison of China's People's Liberation Army in central Hong Kong, as well as visiting an infrastructure project, the Post said.
He will arrive on Thursday with his wife Peng Liyuan and stay until Saturday, July 1, the handover anniversary date, when he will inaugurate the city's new leader Carrie Lam, the report added.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" deal designed to protect its freedoms and way of life for 50 years.
But a number of incidents, including the disqualification from the legislature of two pro-independence lawmakers and the alleged abduction of five Hong Kong booksellers, have raised fears that Beijing is trampling the agreement.
A government spokesman told AFP on Friday there was still no official confirmation that Mr Xi would visit.
Political analyst Willy Lam predicted there may be "ugly scenes" if he does.
"The fact that the head of the (Chinese Communist) party and the army is in Hong Kong, I think, will enhance people's impression that Beijing really means business," said Professor Lam from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"This is a symbol of the fact that in 'one country, two systems', the one country is towering over the two systems."