HONG KONG (Reuters): Authorities deployed a massive security force around Hong Kong on Friday (July 1) as Chinese President Xi Jinping prepared to swear in the city's new leader and attend celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's handover to Beijing.
Red lanterns and posters declaring a "new era" of stability decorated main roads and walkways close to the convention centre where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed Hong Kong back to China at a rain-drenched ceremony in 1997.
At 8am local time, a group of officials gathered next to Victoria Harbour for a flag-raising ceremony in blustery conditions as the city experienced its first typhoon this year. Helicopters flew over the harbour dangling the flags of China and Hong Kong.
Xi did not attend the flag-rasing event, with media reporting he stayed overnight across the border in Shenzhen after arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday. He is due back in the financial hub early on Friday to swear in the city's new leader, John Lee.
Some analysts see Xi's visit as a victory tour after Beijing tightened its control of Hong Kong with a sweeping national security law, following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
After arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, Xi said the city had overcome its challenges and "risen from the ashes".
Former Hong Kong security chief John Lee, who is sanctioned by the United States over his role in implementing the new national security law, takes charge at a time when the global financial hub is facing an exodus of people and talent amid some of the toughest Covid-19 restrictions in the world.
Xi's trip to Hong Kong is his first since 2017, when he swore in the city's first female leader, Carrie Lam, who oversaw some of the territory's most tumultuous times marked by anti-government protests in 2019 and the Covid epidemic.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a "one country, two systems" formula which guarantees wide-ranging autonomy and judicial independence not seen in mainland China.
Critics of the government, including Western nations, accuse authorities of trampling on those freedoms, which Beijing and Hong Kong reject.