State leader Yu Zhengsheng yesterday pledged to "conduct thorough studies" on how to improve exchanges between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau.
Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), of which Yu is the chairman, he also repeated that Beijing would uphold the "one country and two systems" principle and respect the autonomy of Hong Kong and Macau.
While it is customary for the state leader to reiterate these principles on such occasions, this year Yu specially mentioned the need to "conduct thorough studies and improve the exchanges between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau" - a message not mentioned before at the opening of the CPPCC.
National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang will meet Hong Kong delegates to the CPPCC today, when he will likely touch on political reform in the city.
This year's conference comes at a sensitive time, as Hong Kong debates the process of choosing the city's next leader through universal suffrage.
A leading mainland observer of Hong Kong's legal affairs yesterday said that allowing registered voters to put forward their own candidate for the chief-executive election - the so-called public nomination - ran counter to the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Rao Geping, a law professor at Peking University, said "loving the country and loving Hong Kong" was a political and legal requirement for the chief executive. He spelled out two other key criteria for the holder of Hong Kong's top job: upholding the "one country, two systems" principle and the Basic Law, and supporting China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
"It's not so difficult to meet these criteria. The central government can't appoint someone it can't trust as chief executive, as the city is a special administrative region within the country."
Rao, also a deputy director of the Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, will deliver a keynote speech on the chief-executive election at a forum hosted by the Hong Kong government on March 22.
A major stumbling block in the discussion of Hong Kong's political reform is how to produce candidates for the public to choose as the city's next chief executive.
The city's pan-democrats want to let the public put forward their own representatives without strings attached. Beijing loyalists and the central government say this is out of line with the Basic Law, and that the candidates should be decided by a nominating committee.