President Xi Jinping swears in Hong Kong's new leader John Lee as the Asian city celebrates the 25th anniversary of its handover from Britain to China.

China's President Xi Jinping looks on as Hong Kong's incoming Chief Executive John Lee is sworn in as the city's new leader.
China's President Xi Jinping looks on as Hong Kong's incoming Chief Executive John Lee is sworn in as the city's new leader. (Reuters)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has officiated the swearing-in ceremony of Hong Kong's new leader John Lee as the city marked the 25th anniversary of its return from Britain to China. 

Hong Kong's "true democracy" started after the city's handover to China from colonial Britain 25 years ago,  Xi said on Friday.

"After reuniting with the motherland, Hong Kong's people became the masters of their own city," Xi said. "Hong Kong's true democracy started from here."

He said there was "no reason" to change the One Country, Two Systems model under which Hong Kong is governed.

The model is "such a good system, has no reason at all to change, and it must be upheld in the long run," Xi said. He added that everything Beijing had done was "for the good of Hong Kong". 

Lee, a former security official who oversaw the crackdown on 2019 anti-Beijing protests, pledged to uphold the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and bear allegiance to Hong Kong. He also pledged to be accountable to the central government in Beijing.

Red lanterns and posters declaring a "new era" of stability decorated main roads and walkways close to the convention centre where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed Hong Kong back to China at a rain-drenched ceremony in 1997.

At 8 am (0000 GMT), a group of officials gathered next to Victoria Harbour for a flag-raising ceremony in blustery conditions as the city experienced its first typhoon this year. Helicopters flew over the harbour dangling the flags of China and Hong Kong.

Xi did not attend the flag-rasing event, with media reporting he stayed overnight across the border in Shenzhen after arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday.

READ MORE: China's Xi: Hong Kong has been reborn from fire after storms

Hong Kong: one country, two systems

Lee, who is sanctioned by the United States over his role in implementing the new national security law in 2019, takes charge at a time when the global financial hub is facing an exodus of people and talent amid some of the toughest Covid-19 restrictions in the world.

Xi's trip to Hong Kong is his first since 2017 when he swore in the city's first female leader, Carrie Lam, who oversaw some of the territory's most tumultuous times marked by anti-government protests in 2019 and the Covid epidemic.

Britain returned Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees wide-ranging autonomy and judicial independence.

Critics of the government, including Western nations, accuse authorities of trampling on those freedoms. Beijing and Hong Kong reject such accuations. 

READ MORE: Xi Jinping to visit Hong Kong for 25th anniversary of handover to China

Source: Reuters