Chinese President Xi Jinping began a three-day visit to Hong Kong on Thursday to mark 20 years since the city returned to Chinese rule after being a British colony.
The trip will culminate with Xi overseeing the inauguration ceremony for Carrie Lam, who is due to be sworn in Saturday as Hong Kong's first female leader.
Security was heavy throughout the city and police arrested a group of pro-democracy protesters ahead of Xi's arrival.
More demonstrations are expected, including an annual march Saturday that in the past has drawn huge crowds.
China has ruled Hong Kong under a principle known as "one country, two systems" that is meant to give the city certain civil liberties and autonomy, but incidents such as the recent arrest of five booksellers have raised fears about the erosion of that arrangement.
Xi said Thursday China wants to look to the future and "ensure the stable development of 'one country, two systems.'"
Hong Kong watcher Felix Patrikeeff, the master of Kathleen Lunley College in Adelaide, Australia, told VOA that activists who instead want a vote on sovereignty will not achieve that goal.
"The Chinese government is making sure that it takes greater and greater control of the place. It’s doing so in a very quiet way," Patrikeef said.