At a ceremony, which also included the swearing in of the new local chief executive, Xi was able to highlight the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on the city after the wave of pro-democracy protests that engulfed the city in 2019, prompting Beijing to carry out a strict political crackdown there.

In his speech, Xi said Beijing has always acted “for the good of Hong Kong”.

“After reunification with the motherland, the people of Hong Kong became the masters of their own city,” he said, assuring that “true democracy” had begun at that time.

The visit is the Chinese president’s first trip outside mainland China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. She is also the first in Hong Kong since the 2019 pro-democracy movement.

“After all the storms, everyone has painfully learned that Hong Kong cannot fall into chaos and Hong Kong cannot afford chaos,” Xi said.

The city “must get rid of all nuisances and focus on development”.

– “A good system” –

This day also marks the midpoint of the 50-year period of semi-autonomy, guided by the principle “one country, two systems”, negotiated between London and Beijing.

Until 2019, July 1 was an opportunity to demonstrate the freedoms enjoyed by the city, with thousands of residents marching on the sidelines of the celebrations to express their political and social demands.

But this procession, like any gathering, has been banned by the police for two years, officially for health and safety reasons.

According to government critics, the national security law imposed in 2020 by Beijing after the 2019 protests shattered promised freedoms.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also deplored Thursday the “erosion of autonomy” caused by this law in the territory. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised not to “give up” Hong Kong.

Criticisms ignored by Mr. Xi, who on Friday hailed the “one country, two systems” principle as “a good system” which “must be maintained in the long term”.

The ceremonies are organized in a closed circuit system as a sanitary measure.

– Searched houses –

People in Xi’s orbit during his trip, including top government officials, have been told to limit contact, undergo daily PCR tests and spend the days leading up to the visit in a quarantine hotel.

Parts of the city have been closed and many journalists have been barred from scheduled events.

Authorities have taken steps to eliminate any potential source of embarrassment during Xi Jinping’s stay. National Security Police arrested at least nine people last week.

A dozen members of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of the last opposition political parties in Hong Kong, were contacted by the police not to demonstrate. LSD leaders told AFP that their homes had been searched.

The city is plastered with posters proclaiming a new era of “stability, prosperity and opportunity”.

Friday had begun with the raising of the colors, where under a strong wind, the next chief executive John Lee attended the ceremony led by soldiers at the step of the goose, to the sound of the national anthem.

Xi, who local media said spent the night in neighboring mainland China’s Shenzhen, only to return to Hong Kong on Friday morning, did not attend the ceremony.

All events were closed to the public, but small groups had formed nearby.

Liu, 43, working in a restaurant, took pictures with his phone of helicopters trailing Chinese and Hong Kong flags in the sky.

“Our motherland has taken good care of us and we are grateful,” she said. “I’m hopeful for the next 25 years.”

At a nearby restaurant, Cheng, 35, hasn’t planned anything special for the day.

“For me and, I think, for some Hong Kongers, the biggest impact we feel is (Xi’s) visit causing huge traffic jams everywhere.”