China swears in Hong Kong’s new leader

President Xi Jinping led a swearing-in ceremony as China marked the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule

Chinese President Xi Jinping has sworn in Hong Kong’s new chief executive – John Lee, a former security official – making his first trip outside the mainland since the coronavirus pandemic kicked off 2019. 

Lee delivered his inaugural address after being officially sworn in on Friday, vowing to boost the territory’s economy and improve its image abroad. 

The new government “will enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness and develop the economy,” he said, adding that “Emphasis will be put on the development of Hong Kong into an international innovation and technology hub, leveraging and combining the respective strengths of Hong Kong and the Mainland.”

Though Xi did not attend a traditional flag-raising event to mark the occasion, he officiated the swearing-in ceremony after arriving in Hong Kong one day prior. The president has not left mainland China since 2019, and his last trip to Hong Kong came in 2017, when he swore in the city’s previous leader Carrie Lam.

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A Chinese national flag flutters on the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. © VCG / VCG via Getty Images
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Speaking after Lee formally took office, Xi touted Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ policy, intended to allow some autonomy for the former British colony while keeping it part of China-proper.

“For this kind of good system, there is no reason at all to change it. It must be maintained over the long term,” he said.

Friday also marked the 25th anniversary since Hong Kong returned to Chinese governance, after the United Kingdom ruled over the area for more than 150 years. Though Beijing vowed that Hong Kong would have a form of self-rule and judicial independence for at least 50 years following the handover in 1997, Western leaders have accused China of curtailing that autonomy, namely with a 2020 national security law passed in the wake of mass protests and rioting. 

A former security chief, Lee is among several senior Hong Kong officials under US sanctions over the law, which he helped to implement. China has rejected criticisms of the legislation, however, with Xi insisting it “restored order from chaos” while preserving residents’ “democratic rights.”

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