The beleaguered Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying would still face stiff opposition at home even after the support shown to him by top leader Xi Jinping during Leung's first visit to Beijing since taking office, some observers said.
Xi received Leung in the full presence of key officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs. In his opening remarks, the future president praised Leung's team as "striving, progressive and pragmatic … and the central government acknowledges the SAR government's work".
Beijing's general policy principles towards Hong Kong had not changed since last month's 18th party congress, Xi said, adding: "What is essential is that we have to understand and implement 'one country, two systems' thoroughly and accurately, and to respect and safeguard the authority of the Basic Law."
Commentators believe Xi focused on general principles rather than a ringing endorsement in his support for Leung, because the new leadership in Beijing did not want to go directly against the prevailing feelings here against the chief executive, whose administration has been dogged by a series of scandals and whose personal integrity has been questioned over the illegal structures found at his home on the Peak.
Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said central leaders' support for Leung was "expected" and would not be enough for Leung to regain his popularity and overcome the growing opposition at home.
"It couldn't help, because it is normal [for Xi] to meet Leung and say those things, it doesn't mean Leung has won support."
Sin also said Xi's remarks did not entirely rule out the possibility of Beijing pulling support from Leung in an attempt to bring in an alternative chief executive. He added: "Even if Beijing has a plan B, it wouldn't let you know."
Most local commentators remained unconvinced by the support Xi gave to Leung - a bad sign for the embattled Hong Kong leader.
"Xi's remarks haven't raised Leung to a high level, but only suggested that his team has been working very hard and progressively," veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said. "This is only a comment on his attitude to work, but Xi did not talk about the results and outcome."
"Xi also did not offer too much praise - in order not to risk putting Beijing on the opposite side to the Hong Kong people."
Lau said Xi's muted praise might also have been designed to achieve two other things: blunting claims from some Hongkongers that Leung is "Beijing's man" while also easing speculation that the central government plans to dump the chief executive if he fails to up his game.
Xi might also consider it to be too early to comment on the results of Leung's work, he added.
Dr Li Pang-kwong, a political scientist at Lingnan University, believed that Xi's remark was nothing more than a "statement of general principles".
"Beijing has expressed support for the chief executive in the past, so it is inconsequential," Li said. "And 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law have been discussed a lot in Hong Kong recently, and what Xi said are still the general principles … but his comments seem to be indicating that the [authority of the] Basic Law and the 'one country' concept were not being adequately respected."
In 2004, President Hu Jintao also told chief executive Tung Chee-hwa about the need to "understand 'one country, two systems' precisely and comprehensively", and Lau agreed that the city's relationship with the central government could be regarded as an unresolved problem in Hong Kong. "Beijing believes that Hong Kong does not understand 'one country, two systems', while Hongkongers also believe that Beijing doesn't understand it properly," he said.
Lau added the fact Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang and Politburo member Li Yuanchao attended the talks was significant, as Zhang is expected to take over from Xi as head of the leading group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, with Li being his likely deputy.
There were more positive signs for Leung at home, with the latest University of Hong Kong poll finding that the proportion of the population expressing trust in the government had climbed from 34 per cent in September to 45 per cent this month.
Additional reporting by Joshua But
2002: Before meeting chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, President Jiang Zemin urges Hongkongers to look to themselves to find a way out of an economic downturn, saying he has confidence in the city's ability to remain prosperous.
2003: At a meeting with Tung, President Hu Jintao urges his government to "continue its efforts to improve communications with all walks of life". Tung's visit is his third of the year.
2004: Hu orders Tung and his ministers to lift their game. "[You should] summarise your experience and identify inadequacies, and constantly raise the standard of administration and improve governance," Hu says. Tung steps down three months later.
2005: In a meeting with new chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Premier Wen Jiabao calls on Hong Kong people to focus on economic growth and improving livelihoods, pointing to deep-rooted problems and conflicts.
2007: Wen gives Tsang tips on bolstering competitiveness - foster talent, clear the air, and educate and innovate more. "During my visit to Singapore, I kept thinking of Hong Kong," Wen says. "It is facing very strong competition."
2009: Hu asks Tsang to handle Hong Kong's constitutional reforms "in an appropriate manner". Wen, in what some analysts see as a rebuke, asks Tsang to resolve "some deep-rooted conflicts" in society.
2010: Wen charges Tsang with three missions - to maintain financial stability, resolve conflicts, and plan ahead with urgency. "With the global economy still turbulent after the financial crisis, Hong Kong must be prepared for crises when enjoying good times," Wen adds.
2011: Hu says Tsang has responded in his policy address to people's concerns on livelihood issues, adding "the central government affirms the work done by you and the SAR government". Hu also calls on Tsang and the government to continue to lay a solid foundation for long-term prosperity and stability.
2012: Hu echoes Wen's hopes that chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying can restore harmony after a divisive election. "The central government has high expectations of you, and so do the masses in Hong Kong," he tells Leung. "We hope and believe that you and the new SAR government will certainly unite Hongkongers."