Xi is expected to spend two days at the financial center and take part in a series of official events marking both the transfer of power on July 1 and the inauguration ceremony for the city’s next appointed leader, John Li, a former police officer and security chief.
In the nearly 900 days since Xi last left the mainland on January 17, 2020, his diplomatic activities have been limited to virtual summits and video conferences, highlighting his trip to Hong Kong.
“If we calculate the total costs and benefits, our Covid policy will prove to be the most economical and efficient,” Xi said, adding that China has the option to continue its zero Covid approach “until the final victory.”
To ensure Xi’s visit to the city goes smoothly, Hong Kong has implemented a series of Covid restrictions, including a “closed loop” system for any public figure who may attend official anniversary events.
Since last week, high-ranking officials have been banned from attending public events and the use of private vehicles on commuting to work has been restricted. They are also tested daily for Covid and must spend Thursday evening in a quarantine hotel until Friday’s handover ceremony.
Arrival in the changed city
Xi last visited Hong Kong to mark the transfer of power in 2017, on the 20th anniversary, when he was greeted by streets full of pro-democracy protesters.
The ensuing crackdown resulted in almost all of Hong Kong’s leading democratic figures, including activists and politicians, being either imprisoned or sent into exile.
According to police, none of the remaining organizations applied for permission to hold peaceful protests during Xi’s trip. The League of Social Democrats, one of the few surviving pro-democracy political parties, said it would not hold any protests after several of its members met with the national security police.
“The situation is difficult, and please accept our apologies,” party chairman Chang Po-ying said on Tuesday.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly defended the national security law, saying it has restored order in a city rocked by pro-democracy anti-government protests in 2019.
This month, a government spokesman said that freedom of speech, press and assembly in Hong Kong is still “protected in accordance with the law” and that “law-abiding people will not unwittingly break the law.”
On the way home, the message came as a stern warning to police on Tuesday, when the assistant police commissioner said authorities would not tolerate “any acts of violence or public disorder” or “anything that could interfere with and undermine the security operation.”
Objects closed, no-fly zone
Taking no risks, the police stepped up security and closed areas near key locations. Pedestrian bridges, highways and one train station in some of Hong Kong’s busiest areas, including the Admiralty and Wan Chai North financial districts, were temporarily closed on Thursday and Friday.
A no-fly zone has also been set up in the city’s harbor and drone use has been restricted during Xi’s visit.
According to the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), at least 10 journalists working for local and international organizations have been denied coverage for “security reasons.”
“Because the media cannot send journalists to the field, the HKJA expresses its deepest regret at the harsh coverage conditions adopted by the authorities for such a major event,” the press group said on Tuesday.
According to the HKJA, Reuters, Agence France-Press (AFP) and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post were among the outlets whose journalists were not allowed to cover the ceremonies. CNN’s application to attend the events was also rejected.
The HKJA on Tuesday expressed its “extreme regret the harsh reporting conditions adopted by the authorities for such a major event.”
Kathleen Magramo of CNN contributed to the story.