Beijing should focus on the political demands of the July 1 marchers, not on the number who turned out, an expert on Hong Kong affairs said yesterday.
Professor Jiang Shigong said the desire of Hongkongers for the early introduction of universal suffrage had been spelled out loud and clear over the past decade.
Jiang, the deputy director of Peking University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, was speaking a day after a big turnout for the march - despite an approaching tropical storm.
He said: "The central government should not take Hongkongers' strong call for universal suffrage less seriously simply because turnout for this year's march was not much bigger than last year's.
"How to resolve the problems reflected by the July 1 march is more important than disputing the turnout. Obviously, political reform is the key issue which has plagued the Hong Kong government."
Jiang, who advises the central government on Hong Kong policies, warned everyone would lose out if universal suffrage was not achieved in 2017. "The central government's moral image would be tarnished, while the Hong Kong government would be unable to resolve the deadlock over its governance," he said.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organiser of the annual march, said 430,000 people took part on Monday, compared to 400,000 last year. But police said just 35,500 left Victoria Park and 66,000 participated at its peak. The University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme estimated 93,000 took part.
Another mainland academic familiar with Hong Kong affairs, who declined to be named, said the central government had definitely noted the appeal for full democracy since, by any measure, a huge number of people took to the streets.
But he added: "Beijing has its own strategy on implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong and its line of thinking will not hinge on the march turnout."
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his second response to the appeals of marchers that the government had spared no effort to resolve livelihood issues.
"I believe if we continue down this path, we will be able to resolve many issues, whether they are constitutional development, livelihood or economic issues," he said.
A government source said Leung reviewed the marchers' demands at his morning meeting with ministers yesterday.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the state-run Global Times said the march had become a "new traditional ritual".
It claimed some Hong Kong people deliberately provoked the mainland authorities with radical actions and acted in a "spoiled manner". It said the authorities "should see through these tricks".