The sight of the British flag at recent demonstrations in Hong Kong was "heartbreaking", said a former senior mainland official yesterday, possibly transmitting the views of Beijing.
The British flag and the old Hong Kong flag were prominent at recent protests amid what appears to be a growing wave of nostalgia for the colonial era.
But Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Hongkongers should find other ways of expressing discontent.
"They are problems which should be resolved within the same family," Chen said during a visit to the city. "But why did some Hong Kong people wave the flags of a foreign country during the protests? Does waving the colonial flags help resolve the matters?"
But he added that Hongkongers were free to express discontent with the city government and the nation.
"Those flags should be sent to history museums, rather than being displayed in the streets," said Chen, here to promote his book Negotiations on The Handover of Sovereignty of Hong Kong - A Witness Recount.
Retired mainland officials often retain considerable influence. Chen is vice-chairman of the committee on Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese affairs under the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Chen was subtly expressing the concern of some mainland officials about the flag phenomenon.
"But he needs to understand the origin of this sentiment, which stems from Beijing's interference in the chief executive election and the controversy over national education," Choy said.
Chen, a former member of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group that discussed arrangements for the handover, said he was also heartbroken to see a man carrying a placard with the slogan. "The Chinese scram back to China!" during a recent protest against cross-border parallel traders in Sheung Shui.
Chen said the mainland introduced the individual traveller scheme, under which mainlanders can visit Hong Kong without having to join tour groups, at the city's request in 2003.
But the scheme is often used by traders to buy goods for resale across the border.
Chen admitted there was a problem with parallel trading and said it must be resolved.
The government announced a series of measures on Tuesday to clamp down on parallel traders, after several protests.
Addressing conflicts between Hongkongers and visiting mainlanders, Chen said Beijing had given tremendous support to the city.
For example, during the deadly Sars outbreak in 2003 it had sent protective clothes and masks to Hong Kong, even though they were in short supply on the mainland.
As for national education, Chen said similar subjects were common in Western countries.