China’s Xi arrives in Hong Kong on his first trip outside the mainland since the pandemic

Chinese President Xi Jinping, pictured left, looks on as Hong Kong’s outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam prepares to speak after arriving in Hong Kong on June 30, 2022, for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

Selim Chtayti | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the Hong Kong special administrative region on Thursday, state media said.

The trip is for the 25th anniversary Friday of Hong Kong’s handover to China from British colonial rule.

The visit marks Xi’s first trip off mainland China since the pandemic began more than two years ago.

In a brief speech upon arriving in Hong Kong, Xi said Beijing would stick to the “one country, two systems” policy which he said would “ensure Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability”, according to an official English translation by state media.

The “one country, two systems” policy has allowed the Chinese city of Hong Kong to operate as a semi-autonomous region under Beijing’s rule.

Large-scale violent protests in 2019 were initially sparked by a controversial extradition bill that many Hong Kongers said went against the “one country, two systems” principle. Retail sales in the region contracted in 2019 and 2020 as protests disrupted the local economy, even before the pandemic cut Hong Kong off from overseas and mainland tourists.

Xi said on Thursday that Hong Kong had overcome “difficult tasks” and “a number of risks and challenges” in recent years, without going into details.

In a 2020 speech in Shenzhen, Xi said the mainland Chinese city should promote the development of Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macao — the Greater Bay Area — and enrich the new “one country, two systems” practice.

He did not specify what the “new practice” entailed. The speech commemorated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in the southern province of Guangdong.

Xi concluded his remarks on Thursday by referring to his goal of making China a greater power.

“Hong Kong will make a great contribution to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” he said.

Xi arrived in Hong Kong with his wife at West Kowloon train station, according to a live broadcast Thursday afternoon on state media.

The feed showed a station packed with children and adults chanting “welcome” in Mandarin and waving the flags of Hong Kong and China.

On Friday, Beijing stalwart John Lee will begin his five-year term as chief executive of Hong Kong, replacing outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam. Lee was the only candidate for the office in an election held in May.

—CNBC Su Lin Tan contributed to this report.

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