Chinese leader Xi arrives in Hong Kong for handover anniversary
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong Thursday to attend celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.
Xi travelled into the city by high-speed train, the first time he has left mainland China since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he was greeted at the station by schoolchildren waving flags and bouquets of flowers, as well as lion dancers and select accredited media.
Details around the trip have been kept tightly under wraps, and the visit has sparked a massive security effort.
Government leaders have been forced into an anti-Covid "closed-loop" system, parts of the city shut down, and multiple journalists barred from Friday events that will showcase the Communist Party's control over the city after a political crackdown that dismantled a democracy movement and crushed dissent.
The Chinese leader will likely spend the night in neighbouring Shenzhen on the mainland.
Those coming into Xi's orbit during the trip, including the highest-ranking government officials, have been made to limit their social contacts, take daily PCR tests and check into a quarantine hotel in the days leading up to the visit.
"To play safe, if we are going to meet the paramount leader and other leaders in close quarters, I think it is worthwhile to go into the closed-loop arrangements," veteran pro-Beijing politician Regina Ip told AFP.
- Tight security -
Authorities have moved to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi's time in the city, with national security police making at least nine arrests over the past week.
The League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of Hong Kong's few remaining opposition groups, said it will not demonstrate on July 1 after national security officers spoke with volunteers associated with the group.
LSD leaders told AFP their homes had been searched, and that they had also had conversations with the police.
Chan Po-ying, the group's president, said that over the last few days she had begun to feel that she was being followed and watched.
"In the past there was something like this too, but not as bad as this year," the veteran activist said.
Hong Kong's top polling group announced that it would delay publishing the results of a survey that gauged government popularity "in response to suggestions from relevant government departments after their risk assessment".
The July 1 handover anniversary in Hong Kong has traditionally been marked by tens of thousands taking to the streets in peaceful rallies every year.
But mass gatherings have essentially disappeared in Hong Kong over the past few years under a mixture of coronavirus restrictions and a security crackdown aimed at eliminating any public opposition to China's uncompromising rule over the city.
- Patriotism on display -
Authorities have tightly restricted media coverage of Xi's visit, with the government barring multiple journalists from covering events around it.
As of Wednesday, AFP has confirmed that 13 local and international journalists were denied accreditation to cover the handover celebrations.
Two AFP reporters were among those rejected, with a government official citing unspecified "security reasons". A third AFP reporter was later granted accreditation.
There are large-scale road closures on Hong Kong Island, and the flying of drones has been temporarily banned throughout the entire city, with police citing security concerns.
Select sites across the financial hub have also been closed off, including the high-speed rail terminus, a performance venue for Chinese opera and Hong Kong's Science Park.
A number of Science Park workers told AFP they had not received any notification about a visit by Xi but said they were told to work from home on Thursday.
Authorities have also sought to portray an image of public support for the celebrations, including with mass displays of Hong Kong and China flags draped across dozens of public housing estates.
At one estate, a 26-year-old resident surnamed Chan complained at small flags that had been placed outside every floor at a stairwell. "It is unnecessary and too much," he told AFP.
Tony, a worker at the estate, said the display would be better if it was done by residents voluntarily.
"Are we really embracing this ideology so much?" he told AFP.
"People may be repelled... if it is overdone."