Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to attend celebrations marking Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China 25 years ago. Xi arrived in the financial metropolis on a bullet train on Thursday. The head of state left mainland China for the first time since the beginning of the corona pandemic.

Xi, who was accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, was greeted by flag-waving schoolchildren at the Hong Kong train station. Details of the visit were kept secret, and it was initially unclear whether Xi would travel to Hong Kong in person or attend virtually. Irrespective of this, the city prepared for the visit with massive security measures and anti-Covid precautions for high-ranking members of the government.

Upon arrival, Xi said Hong Kong had weathered “major challenges” in recent years. According to the Chinese head of state, the city “rose from the ashes”. “One country, two systems” enjoys “strong vitality”. His heart and that of the central government has always been with his compatriots in Hong Kong.

On June 30, 1997, Britain returned its long-standing crown colony of Hong Kong to China. “One country, two systems” was the formula under which Hong Kong was supposed to be governed. The seven million Hong Kongers were also promised at the time that they would be able to enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and many political freedoms by 2047.

But since the enactment of the controversial security law, many have only spoken of “one country, one system” because Hong Kong is becoming more and more like China. With the introduction of the security law two years ago, Beijing stifled all resistance in the financial metropolis. Activists are persecuted. Their former leaders, such as 25-year-old Joshua Wong, are in prison. Or they fled into exile. The Civil Human Rights Front, the organization behind the annual protest marches, has also disbanded under pressure from the authorities.

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, expressed frustration with the development. Above all, he blames Xi Jinping, who has been at the head of China in the country since 2012.

“I think it’s fair to say that for ten years or a little bit longer after 1997, not a whole lot went wrong. But things have been going downhill since then because Xi Jinping and his colleagues are afraid of what Hong Kong represents,” said Patten, who headed the ex-colony’s administration from 1992 to 1997.

The city stands for the rule of law, civil and human rights, and protests against the erosion of which Hong Kong people have passionately fought, says Patten. He has little hope of improvement: “I can only express my deep sadness about what is happening.”

According to the human rights organization Hong Kong Watch, more than 120,000 people from Hong Kong have already applied for visas as part of an easier entry regulation for Great Britain. An estimated 5.4 million people born before 1997 in the former Crown Colony are eligible. London introduced the 2021 scheme in response to the enactment of the controversial Safety Bill.

John Lee, the successor to the previous Prime Minister Carrie Lam, is also to be sworn in at the handover celebrations. Hardliner Lee, who is loyal to China, was almost unanimously elected Hong Kong’s new head of government on May 8 by a panel he handpicked; Lee was the only candidate. After a reform of the electoral law decreed by China, only “patriots” who were loyal to China were allowed to be appointed to the electoral body. Lee was responsible for checking the “patriotism” of the members of the electoral body.

As the previous security minister, the 64-year-old was the number two in the government of the Chinese special administrative region and was responsible for enforcing the security law.