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China’s Xi Jinping Keeps Hong Kong Guessing on In-Person Visit

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Days before Hong Kong’s landmark July 1 celebrations, President Xi Jinping is still keeping the city guessing over his in-person attendance, as the former British colony clocks some 2,000 daily Covid cases.

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The official Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday that Xi will “attend” both a meeting celebrating the city’s 25th anniversary of Chinese rule and the swearing-in ceremony of incoming Chief Executive John Lee and his government, without providing details.

When Xi last visited the city five years ago, the official statement announcing his trip was more explicit, with Xinhua specifying the Chinese leader would “go to Hong Kong to attend the celebration of the 20th anniversary” of the city’s handover from Britain.

A representative from the Hong Kong government didn’t respond to questions on whether the Chinese leader would attend the July 1 celebrations in person on Monday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the relevant information had “already been released” at a regular press conference in Beijing on Monday.

Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, told a local radio show on Monday that he wouldn’t “interpret” whether Xi would travel to Hong Kong for the landmark event, according to news outlet RTHK.

Local newspaper Singtao reported Monday citing unidentified sources that Xi will visit Hong Kong on Thursday and Friday, but won’t stay overnight. Instead, he will base himself in the neighboring southern city of Shenzhen, the publication added.

The confusion over Xi’s visit comes as Hong Kong recorded nearly 2,000 new Covid cases Sunday, days after after two members of Lee’s incoming cabinet announced they’d tested positive for the virus.

Hong Kong has resisted significantly tightening social curbs in recent months despite rising cases, with officials citing low hospitalization rates. That’s put the city’s pandemic approach at odds with Xi’s flagship Covid Zero policy, which locks down mainland cities over a handful of cases and aims to eliminate community transmission of the virus.

Xi’s physical absence at Friday’s celebrations would be significant. A Chinese president has inaugurated every Hong Kong leader in person since Britain returned the city to Beijing in 1997. But Lee takes office in unprecedented circumstances. Xi hasn’t left the mainland since January 2020, as his pandemic policy has largely closed the country’s borders -- including its links to Hong Kong -- and limited him to virtual attendance of international events.

(Updates with Chinese Foreign Ministry comment.)

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