HONG KONG (AP) -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arrived in Hong Kong ahead of the 25th anniversary of the British handover and after a two-year transformation bringing the city more tightly under Communist Party control. It is Xi's first trip outside of mainland China in nearly 2 1/2 years.
Supporters at the train station waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags chanted "Welcome, welcome! Warm welcome!" as Xi's train pulled into the station on Thursday.
Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were welcomed by the city's leader, Carrie Lam, as they alighted the train. Xi waved at the supporters who welcomed him on the platform.
Elsewhere in the train station, supporters stood on either side of a red carpet, also waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags. Some held up banners welcoming Xi and a lion dance performance was held.
Xi is expected to speak about Hong Kong's future at a ceremony Friday marking the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.
Under his leadership, China has reshaped Hong Kong in the past two years, cracking down on protest and freedom of speech and introducing a more patriotic curriculum in schools. The changes have all but eliminated opposition voices and driven many to leave.
Hong Kong and nearby Macao are special administrative regions that are governed separately from the rest of China, known as the Chinese mainland.
Xi has not left China since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. China has maintained a strict "zero-COVID" policy that aims to keep the virus out. Xi's last overseas trip was to Myanmar in January 11.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to begin a two-day visit to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the city's handover to mainland China, with a raft of heightened security measures and thousands of guests put into quarantine ahead of the celebrations.
Xi, who has not left mainland China since the pandemic began 2 1/2 years ago, will attend a ceremony marking Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997 and officiate an inauguration ceremony for the new government led by incoming leader John Lee on Friday.
Xi is expected to arrive in the city by high-speed train with his wife, Peng Liyuan, on Thursday afternoon, according to local newspaper South China Morning Post.
He is expected to visit the Hong Kong Science Park before meeting with pro-Beijing politicians and tycoons, and then attend a closed-door banquet hosted by outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the newspaper said.
Both Xi and Peng are likely to spend Thursday night in the Chinese city of Shenzhen -- 15 minutes away from Hong Kong by high-speed train -- and return to the city on Friday morning to attend the July 1 events.
Ahead of his arrival Thursday, thousands of guests -- including top officials, lawmakers and diplomats -- checked in to quarantine hotels earlier this week and have been taking daily nucleic acid tests as part of coronavirus precautions.
Police have also ramped up security, designating security zones and road closures as well as a no-fly zone for Friday.
More than 10 journalists from local and international media outlets had their applications to cover the July 1 events rejected earlier this week on "security grounds," with the government saying it was "striking a balance between the need of media work and security requirements."