A day after President Hu Jintao warned 'external forces' against interfering in Hong Kong affairs, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang went a step further yesterday by asserting that such meddling had always existed and was likely to continue.
At a Hebei province delegation meeting, Mr Zhou - who is tipped to be one of the new faces on the Politburo Standing Committee after the congress - said the country had to remain alert to such interference. 'China's strengthening power, which includes Hong Kong and Macau's development, would certainly have an impact on certain forces in the world,' he told the delegates.
'Therefore, the problem of interference from external forces, I think, did happen in history. It also exists today, and it will continue to happen in the future. We have to stay alert on these external forces.'
His remarks immediately drew expressions of concern from some sectors in Hong Kong that the Beijing leadership might take a more hardline approach in handling the city's affairs in the future.
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who had linked Mr Hu's remarks to a possible hardline approach by Beijing towards the city's constitutional development, said Mr Zhou's elaboration yesterday was a worrying sign. 'I'm worried that such an accusation would be used as an excuse by the Beijing leadership in the future should they want to clamp down on anybody.'
Gao Siren , director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, insisted that the president's remarks, in his speech at the opening of the Communist Party's 17th National Congress on Monday, had only been a reiteration of the party's long-held position.
'He did not target any particular event or any particular person,' Mr Gao said in Beijing, adding that the party was opposed to interference by external forces.
Dong Likun , a senior researcher with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Research Institute, said he believed Mr Zhou's remarks reflected Beijing's thinking that Hong Kong had been under colonial rule for more than 100 years and various foreign forces still existed after the 1997 handover.
'Besides, some people in Hong Kong want to make use of foreigners to exert pressure on China, while some foreigners also want to take advantage of Hong Kong to influence China,' Professor Dong said, citing the city's democratic development as the 'most obvious' example of such interference.
Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit, however, stressed that Hong Kong was an international city and exchanges with foreigners were normal.