China's top official in Hong Kong vowed the central government will not allow any rejection of its authority as pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong plan to continue their campaign for free and direct elections of the city's leader.
Zhang Xiaoming, head of China’s liaison office warned protesters not to continue their campaign for democracy during a speech at a gathering which included Hong Kong’s chief executive and representatives from Chinese state-owned firms. About 4,000 people were in attendance.
"We could not allow any attempt to reject the central authority's jurisdiction over Hong Kong under the pretext of a high degree of autonomy, to advocate Hong Kong independence, or even to overtly confront with the central government through illegal ways," Zhang said.
Pro-democracy demonstrators camped out for more than two months last year, blocking central parts of the city to protest in favor of direct elections of the city’s leader.
Beijing has proposed a plan for election reform which would allow voters to choose from a pool of two or three candidates chosen by a committee heavily backed by Communist Party loyalists. Activists say they will continue their campaign of civil disobedience to press for greater choice over whom to support in the election.
“At this stage it seems impossible that Beijing would allow Hong Kong to develop a high degree of democracy," said Willie Lam, a scholar at the University of Hong Kong. "So the biggest controversy, that means the electoral mechanism for electing a chief executive in 2017, Beijing has laid down a very conservative mechanism."
Zhang also said the central government would focus again on patriotic education so that young people in Hong Kong will understand that “the destiny and future of Hong Kong are closely connected to those of the motherland.”
Last month Hong Kong started a student cadet group that will wear Chinese military uniforms and practice Chinese army drills. Lam says it is likely that Beijing will also introduce new legislation targeting Hong Kong demonstrators.
“It’s possible that Beijing will introduce so-called state security legislation on issues like sedition and other acts which Beijing consider to be threatening to state security,” said Lam.
Zhang said the democracy protests had prompted Beijing to rethink the one country two party system.
The British handed power over Hong Kong to China in 1997 under an agreement that allowed the city significant autonomy and included a basic law that the city’s chief executive would eventually be elected through universal suffrage. Lam says a heavy handed response from China to the pro-democracy protests could inspire an exodus.
“Members of the professional classes may immigrate to other countries similar to what happened in the lead up to the 1997 handover of sovereignty,” he said.
At the time many Hong Kong residents chose to immigrate to Canada, the U.S., Europe and Australia.