China Official Warns Against Advocacy for Hong Kong Independence

China will not tolerate attempts to advocate independence for Hong Kong, a Chinese official said, stepping up criticism of students demanding more democracy for the city.

The pro-democracy protests, in which students occupied swathes of Hong Kong for almost three months last year, have deeply “wounded” society, Zhang Xiaoming, director of China’s liaison office, said in a speech yesterday. More needs to be done to help young people have a sense of national pride and belonging, he said.

“Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy,” Zhang said. “This doesn’t mean that it could refuse the central government’s rulings, disrespect its power, including the decision-making power on important issues such as the electoral system.”

The comment highlights China’s growing concern over Hong Kong students, who led the unprecedented protests seeking to remove Chinese limits on the city’s leadership election in 2017. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last month in his policy address criticized a publication by Hong Kong University Students’ Union for encouraging talk of independence.

The whole of society should pay attention to young people’s difficulties in education and finding jobs, Zhang said in his speech, which was posted on the office’s website.

Army Drills

The city last month inaugurated a student cadet group that will practice Chinese army foot drills and wear similar uniforms, with Leung’s wife, Regina, named as commander.

As many as 100,000 people took to the streets last year demanding that China removes a requirement to screen candidates for Hong Kong’s first chief executive election in 2017. The protests were the biggest challenge to Chinese sovereignty of the city since its return from British colonial rule in 1997.

Hong Kong enjoys a high-degree of autonomy, with its own laws and government under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement drawn up by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for the handover.

Zhang urged Hong Kong to seek more collaboration with China in economic development.

“It’s not necessary nor appropriate to worry that Hong Kong is being marginalized by China’s development,” Zhang said, adding that the nation will continue to support the city.

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