Skip to main content

China's President Xi Jinping speaks following his arrival via high-speed rail across the border in Hong Kong on June 30, 2022, for celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.SELIM CHTAYTI/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping is heading to Hong Kong as the city prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of its handover to China on July 1.

Mr. Xi’s two-day visit to the territory will be the first time he has left mainland China since the beginning of the pandemic. He will not stay overnight, however, heading across the border to neighbouring Shenzhen after a few hours, before returning Friday to oversee the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s next chief executive, John Lee.

Parts of central Hong Kong have been heavily fortified ahead of Mr. Xi’s visit, with roads closed, police checkpoints thrown up, and a no-fly zone established. Speaking to reporters this week, assistant police commissioner Lui Kam-ho said the force “will not tolerate any acts of violence or public disorder and will not tolerate anything that may interfere with or undermine the security operation.”

A traditional pro-democracy rally held on July 1 will not go ahead for the second consecutive year, after organizers disbanded in mid-2021 under intense pressure from the authorities. One of the few remaining active pro-democracy groups, the League of Social Democrats, also said it would not hold any protests after several members were summoned for meetings with police this week.

Mr. Lui said the force has received no application to hold any demonstrations, but noted there will be a “designated public activities area outside the security zone” during Mr. Xi’s visit. However, he reminded the public they must conform with COVID-19 restrictions, which limit outdoor gatherings to just four people.

About 3,000 dignitaries and staff who will be in proximity to Mr. Xi during his visit have been ordered to quarantine in advance, according to local media.

Hong Kong reported more than 1,500 coronavirus cases Tuesday, after the authorities said they were ramping up testing, including monitoring sewage samples for hidden outbreaks.

Journalists covering events involving the Chinese leader have also been required to undergo PCR testing every 24 hours since Sunday, before checking into a “designated hotel for stringent closed-loop management” the night before he arrives.

The Globe and Mail was not invited to cover either Mr. Xi’s visit or Mr. Lee’s inauguration, along with a number of other outlets. Several journalists with outlets that were invited were subsequently denied accreditation.

Steven Butler, Asia program co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that “barring some media outlets from freely covering such events severely undercuts the credibility of incoming Chief Executive Lee, who has repeatedly said that Hong Kong enjoys press freedom.”

A former police officer and security chief, Mr. Lee was chosen to succeed Ms. Lam by a 1,500-strong, Beijing-approved committee of the city’s elite in May, after the Chinese government signalled he was their preferred pick. He was the only candidate.

Writing this week, Mr. Lee said “the past 25 years have seen the resoundingly successful implementation of ‘one country, two systems,’ ” the principle under which Hong Kong was handed from British to Chinese control while retaining most of its political and economic freedoms. He said the city still maintains “a high degree of autonomy.”

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, said that the opposite is true. While “one country, two systems” was a “brilliant concept … it has been wrecked by Xi,” Mr. Patten said.

“By and large, until Xi Jinping, Hong Kong was identifiably the same place that it always had been,” Mr. Patten said, adding the guarantees made by Beijing prior to handover are now “treated with contempt by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Since national security legislation was imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020, there has been a concerted crackdown on the opposition and media, with dozens of former lawmakers jailed and outlets shut down.

Mr. Lee has said that one of his priorities will be implementing further laws to clamp down on sedition and treason.

Speaking to Chinese state media this week, Hong Kong security chief Chris Tang, who is remaining in the role under Mr. Lee, said some in the city “continue to act as foreign agents to discredit and violate the law on different matters.”

He warned “the people concerned not to continue the behaviour of these traitors and cowards, but to ‘back off’ from the cliff and discontinue their mistakes.”

Like Mr. Lee, Mr. Tang is a former police officer, and observers have pointed to the increased prominence of former security officials in the incoming administration as a sign it will be tasked with further limiting public dissent.

With practically limitless powers to do so under the security law, this may not prove difficult. A far tougher task for both Mr. Lee and the central government will be restoring Hong Kong’s economic position, after stringent coronavirus restrictions sent many foreign businesses to the exit.

Mr. Lee’s administration is expected to further reduce a mandatory hotel quarantine period for incoming visitors, but not to scrap it entirely as many business leaders have urged.

In November, Mr. Lee is due to travel to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, and officials are also organizing events in Hong Kong for later this year to boost investor confidence.

But restoring Hong Kong’s links with the outside world, while also endeavouring to open its border with mainland China – where “COVID zero” is still the law of the land – may bedevil Mr. Lee as it has done his predecessor. In an interview with the South China Morning Post last week, Mr. Lee acknowledged any move by Hong Kong to lower COVID restrictions must be done “without bringing extra risk to the mainland at the same time.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.