(Bloomberg) — Chinese state media trumpeted President Xi Jinping’s “deep affection” for Hong Kong, as speculation builds that he’ll travel to the city for handover anniversary celebrations on July 1.
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Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily published a 2,000-word article Monday entitled “Hong Kong’s Development is Always Close To My Heart,” highlighting Xi’s speeches throughout his decade in power on the city’s progress. The article was republished Tuesday on the front page of Beijing-controlled local newspaper Ta Kung Pao.
Hong Kong officials are preparing to celebrate 25 years of Chinese rule in the former British colony, at an event an unnamed state leader is expected to attend. The South China Morning Post reported Tuesday that the current arrangement is for Xi to visit the city, according to an unnamed source. Separately, local media outlet Ming Pao reported Chinese state leaders could arrive by high speed rail, also citing unidentified sources.
The People’s Daily article stressed Xi’s long experience coordinating Hong Kong and Macau affairs during his time in Beijing before becoming president, and his landmark visit to the city in 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the handover.
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“President Xi has deep feelings for this piece of land,” the report said. “He is very familiar with Hong Kong’s situation, cares about its prosperity and stability, as well as the interests and well-being of Hongkongers.”
Since Xi’s last visit, Hong Kong has seen historic anti-government protests in 2019 that pushed back against China’s increasing influence on the city, resulting in Beijing imposing a sweeping national security law that has since crushed dissent. Xi then revamped the city’s electoral system to ensure only Communist Party patriots can rule.
While all that has tightened Beijing’s grip on the city, Hong Kong has still drifted from the mainland’s staunch zero-tolerance Covid policy, regularly recording more than 1,000 daily infections in recent weeks. City officials have tightened testing regulations for bars as July 1 approaches, to keep case numbers from rising further, with outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam acknowledging conditions need to be “favorable” for Xi to attend celebrations.
Xi’s visit would mark the first time he’s left mainland China since January 2020, when he visited neighboring Myanmar at the outset of the pandemic. Since then, the mainland has stuck to its Covid Zero policy of trying to eliminate all cases with lockdowns and mass testing.
Local officials attending the July 1 celebrations are expected to enter a week-long “closed-loop” arrangement that would confine them to their homes and workplace, without use of public transport, culminating in one night of hotel quarantine, the Post previously reported, citing sources. The city canceled its Legislative Council meeting next Wednesday to prevent cases spreading among lawmakers for those invited to attend the festivities.