Beijing issues strongly-worded warning it will not tolerate any actions that split the country
China has issued unusually tough warnings for Hong Kong, signalling a desire to bring the semi-autonomous city under tighter control, and perfect its governance of the territory, after five months of increasingly violent protests.
Chinas Communist party, in a statement issued after a meeting of key leaders, said national interest should take priority over the two systems policy that has allowed Hong Kong extensive autonomy since the handover from British colonial rule, and warned that it would not tolerate any actions that split the country.
It also called for Hong Kong to to perfect its legal system to safeguard national security, strengthen law enforcement power, and increase patriotic education of young people and civil servants, to boost support for China among two vital parts of the population.
The previous day, Chinas president, Xi Jinping, had expressed a high degree of trust in Hong Kongs unpopular leader, Carrie Lam, as the two met face to face in Shanghai.
That meeting and the Communist party communique suggest that Beijing is reinforcing its support for Lam despite speculation she might be replaced and will keep her in place to preside over attempts to regain control of the city and its streets.
In a clear reference to the five-months of unrest, the statement said officials must prevent foreign forces from interfering in Hong Kong or carrying out subversive activities, infiltration and sabotage.
Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said China was indicating that it would step up control over the city, and its leadership might try to push through a controversial anti-subversion law, shelved after a mass demonstration in 2003, to demonstrate its commitment to Beijings goals.
They are saying that Hong Kong should work harder to push through tough laws, Lam said. The current conflicts would not ease but sharpen.
Xis show of support for Lam followed speculation that Beijing was preparing to remove her as city authorities struggle to contain pro-democracy demonstrations that have rocked the financial hub.
Hong Kongs leader is chosen by a committee with a heavily pro-Beijing makeup, and even Lam has publicly admitted that she struggles to balance the needs of two masters the people of her city and the government in Beijing.
Xi said Lam has done a lot of hard work and strived to stabilise the situation in Hong Kong, according to a Xinhua report of their meeting.
Xi voiced the central governments high degree of trust in Lam and full acknowledgement of the work of her and her governance team, the state news agency said.
Ending violence and chaos and restoring order remain the most important task for Hong Kong at present, Xi said.
Xi also called for effective efforts to be made in improving peoples lives and having dialogue with all sectors of society.
Willy Lam said Beijing was showing support for the citys chief executive for the time being.
It doesnt mean that they like Carrie Lam, or it doesnt mean that they think highly of her performance, he said.
Its just that if they dont seem to be supporting her, then it will be impossible for her to carry out her duty in Hong Kong, Lam said, adding that Beijing wants Hong Kong to enact national security legislation that would give police more power to punish protesters.
But Carrie Lam could still be sacked within one year or during Beijings annual legislative session in March, the expert said.
On Tuesday the Hong Kong government said it deeply regretted the involvement of civil servants in protests that have plunged the Chinese-ruled city into its biggest crisis in decades as activists plan fresh demonstrations across the territory.
Chief secretary Matthew Cheungs comments came after a commentary by the ruling Communist partys Peoples Daily said Hong Kong civil servants who supported the anti-government demonstrations would perish with the rioters.
In August, thousands of civil servants defied a government warning to remain politically neutral and joined a rally, while Lam said in September she regretted the arrest of some civil servants during protests.
China has run the city under a special one country, two systems model, which allows Hong Kong liberties not seen on the mainland, since its handover from the British in 1997.
But public anger has been building for years over fears that Beijing has begun eroding those freedoms, especially since Xi came to power.
Protesters have issued a list of demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation into abuses by police.