President of China, Xi Jinping, hailed his country rule over Hong Kong on Friday as he led 25th-anniversary celebrations of the city’s handover from Britain.

Friday marked the halfway point of the 50-year governance model agreed by Britain and China under which Hong Kong would keep autonomy and key freedoms, known as “One Country, Two Systems”.

Critics, however, say Beijing has effectively torn up the promise that Hong Kong would retain its way of life after the handover.

But Xi insisted that democracy was flourishing despite a years-long political crackdown that has silenced dissent.

Xi’s speech was the finale of a two-day celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s control over Hong Kong.

Since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, most leading pro-democracy figures have fled the country, been disqualified from office, or been jailed.

Xi said, however, that Beijing had always acted ‘for the good of Hong Kong’. ‘After reuniting with the motherland, Hong Kong’s people became the masters of their own city,’ he said. ‘Hong Kong’s true democracy started from here.’

The tightly choreographed trip is Xi’s first outside of the mainland since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and his first to Hong Kong since the massive protests of 2019.

Friday’s ceremony included the inauguration of the city’s new government, led by John Lee – a former security chief who oversaw the police response to those demonstrations.

After all the storms, everyone has painfully learned that Hong Kong can’t fall into chaos and Hong Kong can’t afford chaos. It must get rid of all disturbances and focus on development, Xi said.’

It ‘has no reason at all to change and it must be upheld in the long run,’ he went on to say, arguing it safeguarded ‘the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests’.