"Hong Kong's development has always pulled at my heartstrings," Chinese President Xi Jinping said here Thursday, just two days ahead of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.
"I'm pleased to have set foot in Hong Kong once again after nine years," Xi said on his first trip to the Asian financial hub as China's top leader.
"Hong Kong's development has always pulled at my heartstrings," he said, adding that he was looking forward to experiencing in person new changes Hong Kong had undergone over the years.
Xi arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport on Thursday.
He and his wife Peng Liyuan were greeted by a group of high-ranking officials at the airport, including Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Chief Executive-elect Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
The Chinese president's three-day tour in Hong Kong will see him attend celebrations marking Hong Kong's 20th return anniversary and the inauguration of the HKSAR's fifth-term government. He will also inspect the HKSAR.
Celebrations scheduled for the next few days to mark the occasion include artistic performances, a fireworks display and a flag-raising ceremony among others.
Already, streets of Hong Kong are decorated with Chinese national flags and HKSAR flags, while outdoor big screens carried celebrating messages.
"I believe that through the series of events to be staged in Hong Kong, our determination and confidence in developing and building a better Hong Kong will surely be enhanced," he said.
According to Xi, the upcoming return anniversary would be an important as well as joyous occasion for both the country and Hong Kong.
He said his Hong Kong tour would serve to express best wishes for the HKSAR, showcase the central government's support for Hong Kong, and help the region plan its future.
Xi congratulated the HKSAR on the great achievements it has made over the past 20 years since its establishment, and encouraged the HKSAR to create new glory.
The central government, which has offered strong backing for Hong Kong in the past 20 years, will as always support the HKSAR in growing its economy and improving people's well-being, Xi said.
He also said he would join people from all walks of life in Hong Kong to review the SAR's extraordinary 20-year journey, sum up its experience and plan the future to ensure the smooth and long-term successful practice of the "one country, two systems" policy.
The Chinese president has more than once stressed the central government's commitment to the "one country, two systems" principle during his first day in Hong Kong.
On Thursday afternoon, Xi, accompanied by outgoing HKSAR Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, met with senior figures of the SAR's executive, legislative and judicial bodies.
During the meeting, Xi said the practice of "one country, two systems" has been very successful in Hong Kong.
The concept has led to Hong Kong's peaceful return to China, a rare case in Chinese and foreign histories, where lost lands were mostly recovered by force, he said.
After its return in 1997, the special administrative region system provided for by China's Constitution and the Basic Law of the HKSAR took root in Hong Kong.
The region has managed to retain prosperity and stability, despite the severe impacts of the Asian financial crisis, the SARS outbreak, and the global financial crisis, Xi said.
"Our practice has fully proven that 'one country, two systems' is absolutely correct and is pulsing with life," the president said.
In a separate meeting with Leung, Xi said the central government fully acknowledged his work during his five-year term of office.
With the strong support of the central government, Leung had led the HKSAR government to earnestly implement the principle of "one country, two systems" and the HKSAR Basic Law, and made arduous efforts to solve deep-rooted problems accumulated over the years in Hong Kong and expand the HKSAR's space for future development, Xi said.
Leung and the HKSAR government have staunchly safeguarded national sovereignty, security, development interests, and social stability, making positive contributions to the undertaking of the "one country, two systems," he said.
"The central government fully trusts you and fully acknowledges your work," Xi told Leung.
The Chinese mainland and Hong Kong inked two agreements here on Wednesday on investment as well as economic and technical (Ecotech) cooperation under the framework of the mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).
According to the investment agreement, the mainland will provide the most favored treatment to Hong Kong. Hong Kong can also enjoy more preferential treatment in such sectors as shipping, aircraft manufacturing and energy exploration.
The agreement on Ecotech emphasizes mainland's support to Hong Kong in participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.
On Thursday afternoon, Xi also attended a signing ceremony for cooperation agreement on the development of the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
Under the agreement, the mainland and Hong Kong will carry out cooperation in areas including relics display, personnel training and people-to-people exchange.
The Palace Museum and Hong Kong authorities already signed last year a memorandum of cooperation on the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
The collection of artworks at the Palace Museum will be displayed at the Hong Kong Palace Museum to enrich the cultural life of Hong Kong.
Xi showed great interest in the cultural and art development of Hong Kong, and was briefed on the planning of the West Kowloon Cultural District, and the site selection and building of the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
The district can not only provide local residents with a convenient cultural and entertainment site, but is also conducive to the cultural and innovative industry development in the HKSAR, Xi said.
The president said that he hoped the HKSAR can carry forward the traditional culture, play its role as a platform facilitating Chinese and Western cultural exchanges, and promote cultural exchange and cooperation with the mainland.
Xi also watched some selections of Cantonese opera performed by children. He said that traditional cultural forms including Cantonese Opera had new development opportunities after Hong Kong's return to the motherland.
He encouraged performers in Hong Kong and the mainland to carry out more exchanges with and learn from each other.