Hong Kong leader aims to reopen border with China next month

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, stands next to Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee before a meeting in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Xi reaffirmed Beijing's commitment to follow the "one country, two systems" governing principle for Hong Kong on Friday, saying it is the "best arrangement" to maintain the city's prosperity and stability. (Li Tao/Xinhua via AP) (Li Tao, Xinhua)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong's leader said Saturday that China has agreed to a reopening of the city's border with the mainland, which has been largely closed by pandemic restrictions, and that he is aiming for a mid-January start.

Chief Executive John Lee, returning from a trip to Beijing where he met President Xi Jinping and other officials, told reporters at the Hong Kong airport that the two sides would develop a plan to reopen the border in a gradual and orderly manner.

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The announcement came as China is easing a “zero-COVID” policy that has restricted entry to the country, isolated infected people and locked down areas with outbreaks.

Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Chinese territory that borders Guangdong province in southeast China. People must pass through immigration to cross between the two, and most land and sea entry points have been closed and controls tightened because of the pandemic.

Lee has made a full reopening of the border a priority to boost the city's flagging economy. The issue was one of several on his agenda for this week's trip to Beijing to deliver an annual report to the central government, his first such report since taking office on July 1.

He offered no details on how the border might be reopened, and whether it would include an elimination of the five days of hotel quarantine required for people entering mainland China.