Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong to mark the city’s 25th anniversary of its Handover from Britain to China.

Xi Jinping Hong Kong visit
Xi Jinping waves to the students and people welcoming his arrival at the West Kowloon Station on June 30, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

The train carrying Xi and his wife pulled into West Kowloon Station on Thursday, greeted by chants of “welcome, welcome, warmly welcome” by revellers waving national and Hong Kong flags.

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Banners hung from the ceiling and held up by attendees read “warmly welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping to celebrate Hong Kong’s 25th Handover anniversary and the inauguration of the sixth-term Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.”

Xi Jinping arrives Hong Kong 2022 handover anniversary banner
A banner welcomes Xi Jinping at West Kowloon Station, on June 30, 2022. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam greeted the leader, walking alongside him along the red carpet as they waved and nodded to guests.

Xi Jinping Carrie Lam high-speed rail 2022 handover annivesary
Xi Jinping steps off the high-speed rail and greets outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam as he makes his first visit to Hong Kong since 2017, on June 30, 2022. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Chief Executive-elect John Lee, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, Legislative Council chairperson Andrew Leung and Executive Council Convener Bernard Chan were among the officials in attendance at the station.

A brass band played marching tunes, while the welcome chants continued.

Xi Jinping Carrie Lam West Kowloon Station June 30 2022
Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan walk the red carpet after arriving at West Kowloon Station, on June 30, 2022. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The visit marks the first time that the Chinese leader has set foot outside of mainland China since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Standing before a podium in the station, Xi said he was “extremely happy” to be visiting in Hong Kong again after his last visit five years ago.

Xi Jinping Hong Kong visit
Xi Jinping gives a speech at the West Kowloon Station on June 30, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

“In this five years, I have been concerned about and missing Hong Kong,” Xi said.

“Recently, Hong Kong has withstood serious tests and overcome risks and challenges one after another. Following the storms, Hong Kong was reborn… fully showing the strong vitality of [the] One Country, Two Systems framework,” he said.

The framework, he added, ensures Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.

“As long as we unswervingly adhere to One Country, Two Systems, Hong Kong’s future will only be more beautiful,” he added.

Xi Jinping Hong Kong visit
Xi Jinping, Carrie Lam and John Lee at the West Kowloon Station on June 30, 2022. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The days leading up to his visit were peppered with uncertainty over whether Xi would physically come to Hong Kong – the government said only that he would attend celebrations, but did not confirm whether he would come in person.

Two-day visit

Xi is expected to meet government officials, including the current and incoming Principal Officials and Executive Council members, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. He will then reportedly tour Science Park in Sha Tin, which was closed off earlier on Thursday to accommodate his visit.

According to RTHK, police officers were deployed to Science Park – where cordons and barricades had been set up – to guard entrances and exits. Some officers patrolled the area on bicycles.

25th Handover anniversary banner
A banner marking Hong Kong’s 25th Handover anniversary near the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

A dinner banquet expected to be held at Government House, where Chief Executive Carrie Lam lives, was cancelled due to Covid-19, Sing Tao reported.

A Hong Kong government statement said Lee and senior government officials would attend a flag-raising ceremony to celebrate the Handover on Friday. It did not mention whether Xi would attend.

july 1 2021 bauhinia square
The flag raising at Golden Bauhinia Square on July 1, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Local media have reported that Xi will not stay in the city overnight, and instead will take the high speed railway to neighbouring Shenzhen before returning to Hong Kong tomorrow.

Heightened security

Hong Kong police have ramped up security ahead of Xi’s expected visit, with officers deployed on standby outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre and West Kowloon Station.

The Exhibition Centre MTR station will also be shut down on Thursday and Friday, while over 50 bus routes terminating at or passing through the area will be diverted.

police officers west kowloon station handover anniversary
Police officers outside West Kowloon Station. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Police will provide a motorcade escort and personal protection for Xi. The force was “duty-bound” to ensure the Chinese leader’s personal safety and security, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, Lui Kam-ho said on Tuesday.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.