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Hong Kong localism and independence

Advocating independence for Hong Kong will bring calamity to the country and people, says congress chairman

Zhang Dejiang stresses that people should not underestimate independence calls, even though only a small minority shares that view

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 11:30pm

Advocating independence for Hong Kong would “bring calamity to the country and the people” and it should not be underestimated, China’s state leader overseeing the city’s affairs warned on Tuesday.

National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang gave the message to a visiting delegation from the city as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah remained evasive during his own trip to Beijing on whether he would run for chief executive, only saying “the key issue is the interest of Hong Kong as a whole”.

Zhang said Beijing would communicate with any person or organisation in Hong Kong, as long as they supported the “one country, two systems” principle.

He also stressed that Beijing’s support for Hong Kong would not be affected by a “tiny minority” talking about independence

Zhang spoke on Tuesday to a delegation from the Silent Majority for Hong Kong, a Beijing-friendly group which was vocal in opposing the Occupy protests in 2014.

Last month, newly elected pro-independence legislators Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-chingcaused a storm by pledging allegiance to a “Hong Kong nation” and insulting China while taking their Legislative Council oaths.

The two were stripped of their seats by a court ruling after the government took unprecedented legal action against them, which was followed by the NPC Standing Committee interpreting the Basic Law to decide that such conduct would be punishable by disqualification.

Watch: John Tsang speaks to reporters in Beijing

During a photocall at the start of the two-hour meeting, which was Zhang’s first with a group from Hong Kong since the interpretation earlier this month, Zhang warned: “Hong Kong independence will bring calamity to the nation and the people ... If it worsens, Hong Kong people will be the first to suffer losses and misfortune.

“Therefore I believe that the vast majority of Hong Kong residents will clearly see the true colour of Hong Kong independence and insist on the struggle against it,” he said.

“The interpretation fully shows the central government’s determination in safeguarding ‘one country, two systems’. Don’t say it doesn’t matter because there is only a small minority talking about independence. We must not underestimate it.”

After the meeting, which was reported by state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday night, Silent Majority convenor Robert Chow Yung quoted Zhang as saying: “The advocacy of Hong Kong independence by a tiny minority will not affect the central government’s support for and trust in Hong Kong.”

Meanwhile, the financial secretary was evasive about rampant speculation that he would run for the top job after meeting finance officials in Beijing onTuesday.

He said he did not discuss the chief executive election to be held next March when he met Wang Guangya, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, on Monday.

“We didn’t talk about that, it’s not on our agenda,” Tsang said at a media briefing. He earlier denied reports that he would seek Beijing’s blessing during the trip.

Incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has dropped hints about a re-election bid, while pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has all but confirmed she’s running.

In contrast, Tsang would only say: “It’s not a personal issue, and the key issue is the interest of Hong Kong as a whole.”

He did not elaborate, but a source familiar with the situation said Tsang was applying pressure on the central government by making such a public statement.

“Tsang was actually sounding a warning to Beijing that Hong Kong society will be even more divided if he is not allowed to run for chief executive,” the source said.

The incumbent himself remained tight-lipped, saying he had “no news” about the contest that he is widely expected to join.

Additional reporting by Gary Cheung