Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong for events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the former British colony under Chinese rule and the inauguration of the city’s new leader, John Lee.

Xi’s visit, via high-speed train, is his first to the city since 2017 and the first known trip outside mainland China in more than two years amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Xi, who was wearing a mask, stepped off the train to be greeted by children and other people waving flowers and Chinese and Hong Kong flags as he chanted “Welcome, welcome, warm welcome” in Mandarin.

Outgoing leader Carrie Lam and her husband were among those who welcomed Xi at the train station.

The city’s streets were decorated with red Chinese flags and posters announcing a “new era” of stability.

Authorities deployed heavy security around the train station where Xi arrived and conducted stop-and-search checks, with some officers assisted by sniffer dogs.

Xi’s official full schedule for the visit has not been released. Hong Kong’s weather forecaster issued a typhoon warning late on Wednesday, but it was unclear whether the celebrations would have repercussions.

During his latest visit to the global financial center, Xi warned of acts that endanger China’s sovereignty and said Hong Kong should improve its national security regime.

In 2019, millions of Hong Kongers protested China’s growing authoritarian rule, which later prompted Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law banning acts such as subversion with possible life imprisonment.

While tens of thousands of protesters marched during Xi’s visit five years ago, no protests are expected this year.

Lui Kam-ho, a senior police officer, warned this week against “violence or disturbance of public order”. The more than 30,000 police force said it will use all its resources to ensure security for the celebrations.

Police have closed parts of Hong Kong, blocked roads and imposed a no-fly zone over central Victoria Harbour.

Hong Kong’s new leader Lee, a former police officer sanctioned by the United States for his role in implementing the national security law, is expected to be sworn in by Xi Friday.

Xi, who is about to set a precedent for a third term of leadership at a five-year Communist Party congress later this year, is expected to spend the night in neighboring Shenzhen on Thursday and leave Hong Kong on Friday. .

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