HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Hong Kong on Thursday, prompting a massive security push ahead of celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover to communist China.
Government leaders have been forced into a closed-loop system, parts of the city have been shut down and several journalists barred from Friday events that will show the Communist Party’s control over the city after a political crackdown that dismantled a democratic movement and crushed dissent.
Details of the trip, Xi’s first outside mainland China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, have been kept under wraps, but he is expected to make appearances in Hong Kong on Thursday and Friday.
However, the Chinese leader is likely to spend the night in the nearby mainland city of Shenzhen, according to local media.
Those who come into Xi’s orbit during the trip, including top government officials, were forced to limit their social contacts, take daily PCR tests and check into a quarantine hotel in the days before visit.
“To play it safe, if we’re going to meet the supreme leader and other leaders up close, I think it’s worth going into the closed-loop arrangements,” a veteran pro-Beijing politician said. Regina Ip told AFP.
Authorities have taken steps to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi’s stay in the city, with national security police making at least nine arrests in the past week.
The League of Social Democratsone of the few remaining opposition groups in Hong Kong, said it would not demonstrate on July 1 after national security officials spoke to volunteers associated with the group.
And Hong Kong’s leading polling group said it would delay releasing the results of a survey that gauged the government’s popularity “in response to suggestions from relevant government departments after their risk assessment”.
The anniversary of the July 1 handover in Hong Kong has traditionally been marked by tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in peaceful rallies each year.
But mass gatherings have essentially disappeared in Hong Kong in recent years under a mix of coronavirus restrictions and a security crackdown aimed at eliminating any public opposition to China’s intransigent rule of the city.
Authorities have strictly restricted media coverage of Xi’s visit, with the government banning several journalists from covering events surrounding him.
On Wednesday, AFP confirmed that 13 local and international journalists were denied accreditation to cover the handover celebrations.
Two AFP reporters were among those rejected, with a government official citing unspecified “security reasons”. A third AFP reporter was then accredited.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed “deep regret” over the refusals and said the quarantine and testing requirements to which journalists were subjected made it difficult for staff replacements.
The government told the media that the decision was “a balance as much as possible between the needs of media work and security requirements”.
Police on Tuesday announced large-scale road closures on Hong Kong Island and temporarily banned the flight of drones across the city, citing safety concerns.
Some sites in the financial center were also closed, including the high-speed rail terminus, a performance hall for Chinese opera and the Hong Kong Science Park.
A number of science park workers told AFP they had received no notification of a visit from Xi, but said they had been told to work from home on Thursday.
Authorities have also sought to project an image of public support for the celebrations, including with massive displays of Hong Kong and Chinese flags draped over dozens of public housing estates.
At one estate, a 26-year-old resident nicknamed Chan complained about small flags that had been placed outside each floor in a stairwell. “It’s useless and it’s too much,” he told AFP.
Estate worker Tony said the display would be better if done voluntarily by residents.
“Do we really buy into this ideology so much? he told AFP.
“People can be put off…if it’s overdone.”

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