Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, during his year-end duty visit to Beijing, was asked by President Hu Jintao to handle constitutional development 'in an appropriate manner' so as to maintain Hong Kong's harmony and stability.
The remarks have been interpreted as a sign that the Chinese leader is not very happy with the chief executive over his handling of the issue.
Tsang reported that Chinese leaders 'genuinely hoped to promote democratic development in Hong Kong' and pledged that he would work with Legco to ensure passage of his political reform package.
The chief executive did not say so, but his problems are largely the creation of the central government.
After all, opposition to his political reform proposals would evaporate if only Beijing made it clear that it would not try to keep democrats from being nominated as candidates for chief executive in 2017 and that functional constituencies would be abolished by no later than 2020.
As it is, Tsang has to bear the consequences of the central government's actions.
While in Beijing, Tsang explained to Chinese leaders the plan for a 'de facto referendum' to be triggered by the resignations of five legislators this month. However, he probably did not point out that the cause of this controversy would be removed instantaneously if only the central government were more willing to accept the desire for democracy on the part of Hong Kong people.
The sentencing of the prominent intellectual Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day certainly did not help Tsang.
This travesty has resulted in protests and rallies in Hong Kong in support of Liu, who co-authored Charter 08, a document calling for human rights and democracy in China. Some protesters at the border were detained by mainland security personnel, who may have crossed into Hong Kong territory, putting 'one country, two systems' at risk.
Beijing should realise the harder it cracks down on dissidents on the mainland, the harder it is for the chief executive to maintain harmony and stability here. In a true sense, the central government is responsible for Tsang's problems in governance.
No doubt, Communist party leaders think that the draconian sentence meted out to Liu will intimidate like-minded individuals on the mainland.
However, it looks as though 'killing the chicken to scare the monkeys' - punishing a few to warn many - no longer works. Supporters of Liu went up to policemen outside the courthouse asking to be arrested, saying that if Liu was guilty, then they, too, were guilty of the same offence.
Chinese leaders apparently feel so threatened by Liu's essays on the internet that they are willing to face seething anger at home and abroad. However, they may well have underestimated just how detrimental such actions are to Beijing's standing in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In Taiwan, not only the opposition Democratic Progressive Party but even the president, Ma Ying-jeou, responded to the Liu sentencing. It did not help that news of the sentencing reached Taiwan just after mainland official Chen Yunlin had assured the people there that Beijing would 'absolutely respect' the expression of different opinions within Taiwan society.
As China no doubt expected, Liu's sentencing has been condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as by the European Union, the US and other Western countries. But the reaction in Hong Kong and Taiwan should give Beijing pause.
The new year is unlikely to bring any respite for the Chinese people. Vice Minister for Public Security Yang Huanning has warned that there will be no relaxation in 2010 and that the government will continue to strike hard against 'hostile forces inside and outside the country'.
No doubt, it will again be difficult for Donald Tsang to maintain harmony and stability in Hong Kong.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator