In an apparent response to growing anti-mainland sentiment in the city, President Hu Jintao expressed confidence Hongkongers would have a shared sense of pride in being Chinese, with the remarks being described as a "rare" move.
In a speech opening the party congress in Beijing, Hu reiterated that the central government would "safeguard the nation's sovereignty and security". The remarks follow recent heated comments associating the waving of Hong Kong's colonial flag and the chanting of anti-Chinese slogans with demands for independence.
"We firmly believe that our Hong Kong and Macau compatriots not only have the wisdom, ability and ways to govern and develop the special administrative regions well, but can definitely play a proactive role in national affairs and share the dignity and pride of being Chinese, along with all Chinese people of different ethnic groups," said Hu, who will soon retire as party general secretary.
Analyst Johnny Lau Yiu-siu said it was rare for state leaders to mention Hongkongers taking pride in their nationality.
"Beijing may feel that protesters' slogans like 'Chinese people go back to China' hurt people's feelings, so leaders try to stress the dignity and pride of being Chinese," Lau said.
On his expectations for Hong Kong and Macau, Hu said the central government would "firmly support" their efforts to "focus on developing the economy, effectively improve people's livelihood, move forward democracy in a gradual and orderly process" and foster unity.
In his 2007 opening speech for the 17th congress, Hu stressed the overall need to strengthen cross-border co-operation.
Yesterday, Hu said the principle of "one country, two systems" was "recognised around the world as a success".
Lau also said Hu deliberately left out certain phrases in his report, including "to prevent and curb external forces from interfering with Hong Kong and Macau affairs". Lau said this was to avoid stirring fresh controversy.
The external forces, Lau said, might refer to local or Taiwanese opposition groups, or overseas pro-democracy activists.
In Beijing, Li Gang, deputy director of the central government's liaison office in the city, said there was no support in Hong Kong for independence.
He also said the rumours Beijing might replace Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying were "ridiculous". And he said Hong Kong had a constitutional responsibility to enact national-security legislation, but the timetable was up to the city to decide.