China’s Xi Jinping praises Hong Kong leader John Lee for ‘safeguarding national security’ 

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has praised Hong Kong’s leader John Lee for reviving the local economy and safeguarding national security, while Premier Li Keqiang called for better coordination over the reopening of the city’s border with the mainland.

Xi told Lee the city is on the “right track” as the two met in Beijing on Friday, according to the South China Morning Post. 

“Under your leadership, the new government demonstrated commitment, made contributions in steadfastly safeguarding national security and revived the vitality of the economy. You also responded to concerns of the public,” Xi said, according to the SCMP.

Meanwhile, Li urged officials to speed up coordination for a “gradual” return to normal people movement between the mainland and Hong Kong border during a meeting with Lee on Thursday, state radio reported Friday.

This is Lee’s first official visit to Beijing since he took office on July 1, where he briefed China’s state leaders on social, political and economic issues in the city. It’s being being closely watched for news of when the central government will reopen the border with Hong Kong. He is expected to return on Saturday afternoon and speak to the media about his trip, the SCMP reported. 

The border between Hong Kong and mainland China has been effectively shut for almost three years. Currently visitors from Hong Kong are limited by a daily quota, while they also have to undergo five days of hotel quarantine. Mainland visitors have to quarantine on their return. Most of Hong Kong’s border checkpoints have been closed since early 2020.

The ruling Communist Party is rapidly moving to resume normal economic activity as it dismantles the last vestiges of Covid Zero. China plans to cut quarantine requirements for overseas travelers in January, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.

Hong Kong could see an estimated 7.6% boost to its gross domestic product from China’s reopening, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists. The local economy is projected to have contracted this year for the third time in four years. The city hosted almost 44 million arrivals from mainland China in 2019. 

Li also earlier told Lee the city needs to further integrate with the mainland’s development plans and consolidate its role as an international hub.

Xi last publicly spoke on Hong Kong issues when he visited the city mid-year to mark the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese sovereignty. Xi then urged Hong Kong to focus on shoring up its economy. 

Lee, a former top police official and security minister, was appointed by China to lead the city for the next five years in May after an uncontested election by a panel of Beijing loyalists. He succeeded former Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose single term was marred by mass protests and angst over the government’s Covid policy. 

— With assistance by Qi Ding and Foster Wong

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