Hong Kong (CNN)China’s President Xi Jinping underlined his commitment to “one country, two systems” as he arrived in Hong Kong to mark two decades of Chinese rule in the former British territory.
“For the past 20 years, Hong Kong has always had the strong backing of the central government,” Xi said as he addressed crowds at the city’s airport.
It’s Xi’s first visit to the Chinese special administrative region, and one that is expected by dogged by protests and a huge annual pro-democracy rally to mark the day when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule.
From the tarmac, Xi encouraged Hong Kongers to “look forward to the future, making sure ‘one country, two systems’ can work smoothly and continue,” referring to the principle by which Hong Kong retains limited autonomy and freedoms.
Xi said the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the UK to China on July 1 is a huge event “for the country, and for Hong Kong.”
Huge banners have been placed over the highway Xi will take to the city, welcoming him for his “official inspection” and celebrating “20 years of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.”
Chinese and Hong Kong flags have also been hung from windows and buildings, though critics of Beijing have taken angrily to social media to denounce the displays.
Protesters have said they will target Xi at all of his engagements, though it remains to be seen how close they will be able to get to the Chinese leader.
Late Wednesday, two dozens activists, including former “Umbrella Movement” leader Joshua Wong were arrested after they stormed a public square where Xi will appear later this week
Huge security operation
Much of Wan Chai, a bustling business district in the city center where Xi will stay, is on partial lockdown, with 300, 2-ton barricades erected on roads around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The venue will host many events marking the city’s handover from the UK to China.
Around 11,000 of the city’s 29,000 police officers will be involved in security arrangements for Xi’s visit, according to the South China Morning Post
During a visit last year by Zhang Dejiang, the third-highest ranked Chinese leader, sidewalks were glued down
in key areas to prevent protesters from breaking them up and using them as missiles.
Local media reported this week
that police were under instructions to prevent banners and signs that might “embarrass” Xi from appearing within his eyesight.
Barriers were also briefly erected around a statue of Queen Victoria in a central Hong Kong park named for the long-reigning British monarch, but they were removed after complaints
Events and celebrations
While in Hong Kong, Xi will spend little time anywhere near the public.
On Thursday evening, he is expected to have dinner with Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung and his successor, Carrie Lam
, whom Xi will swear in on Saturday.
Xi is also expected to visit a People’s Liberation Army base. China’s military has always had a major presence in Hong Kong since the handover, but it has kept a low profile until recently
An elaborate celebratory gala will be held Friday evening at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, attended by Xi, Leung, Lam and other dignitaries.
Protests are expected outside the event, and at a separate rally by pro-Hong Kong independence activists, who have called for their supporters
to gather together and “crush Chinese colonialism.”
Xi will leave the city on Saturday after swearing in Lam and attending a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 20 years since China assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Attention will then turn to the annual July 1 pro-democracy march, which organizers expect to attract hundreds of thousands of people.
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