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

China’s President Xi Jinping, pictured on the left, looks at Hong Kong’s outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam as he prepares to speak following his arrival in Hong Kong on June 30, 2022, for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China.

Selim Chtayti | Afp | Getty Images

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

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

The visit marks Xi’s first travel 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 that he claimed would “ensure the long term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong,” according to an official English translation carried 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 triggered by a controversial extradition bill that many in Hong Kong claimed went against the principle of “one country, two systems.” The region’s retail sales contracted in 2019 and 2020 as protests disrupted the local economy, even before the pandemic shut Hong Kong off from foreign and mainland tourists. 

Xi said Thursday that Hong Kong overcame “severe tasks” and “a number of risks and challenges” in the last few years, without going into detail.

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

He did not specifically say what the “new practice” entailed. That speech commemorated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen special economic zone in the southern province of Guangdong.

Xi closed his remarks Thursday by referring to his aim of building China into a greater power.

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

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

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

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

— CNBC’s Su-Lin Tan contributed to this report.

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