Hong Kong (CNN)China’s President Xi Jinping underlined his commitment to “one country, two systems” as he arrived in Hong Kong to mark two decades of Chinese rule in the former British territory.
“For the past 20 years, Hong Kong has always had the strong backing of the central government,” Xi said as he addressed crowds at the city’s airport.
It’s Xi’s first visit to the Chinese special administrative region, and one that is expected by dogged by protests and a huge annual pro-democracy rally to mark the day when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule.
From the tarmac, Xi encouraged Hong Kongers to “look forward to the future, making sure ‘one country, two systems’ can work smoothly and continue,” referring to the principle by which Hong Kong retains limited autonomy and freedoms.
Xi said the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the UK to China on July 1 is a huge event “for the country, and for Hong Kong.”
Huge banners have been placed over the highway Xi will take to the city, welcoming him for his “official inspection” and celebrating “20 years of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.”
Chinese and Hong Kong flags have also been hung from windows and buildings, though critics of Beijing have taken angrily to social media to denounce the displays.
Protesters have said they will target Xi at all of his engagements, though it remains to be seen how close they will be able to get to the Chinese leader.
Much of Wan Chai, a bustling business district in the city center where Xi will stay, is on partial lockdown, with 300, 2-ton barricades erected on roads around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The venue will host many events marking the city’s handover from the UK to China.