The highest-ranking mainland official in charge of Hong Kong affairs has made a rare rallying call to the city's disciplined services and issued the central government's first words of acknowledgement of the city's leader in three months.
At a meeting in Beijing with security chief Lai Tung-kwok, National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang said the city's "highly professional" men and women in uniform played an important role in safeguarding national security and social order.
A number of recent incidents have sparked debate in Hong Kong about the role and conduct of the police at public protests.
Zhang said: "The people of Hong Kong are satisfied with the disciplined services' work. The central government is also fully satisfied with the contributions that the services have made in safeguarding the Basic Law, the 'one country, two systems' [framework], and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."
Zhang, No 3 on the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, went on to give his backing to Leung, whose popularity has hit new lows in recent polls.
"It hasn't been easy to achieve [the level of] prosperity and stability in Hong Kong in the last 16 years [since the handover]. And now, we can see that under the leadership of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the SAR government has been devoted to tackling economic difficulties, fostering development, and planning for Hong Kong's long-term prosperity," Zhang said.
"The central government is firmly supportive of the work of Leung Chun-ying and the SAR government, and fully acknowledges its contribution."
Xinhua reported Zhang as reiterating that on constitutional reform, Beijing's stance was to do it according to the Basic Law.
"Whether to improve livelihood, or to carry out democratic reform, the rule of law is key - a stable and harmonious environment is needed, and that's where the root of Hong Kong people's interest lies," Zhang said.
Some observers said the remarks were intended to boost police morale. But, they said, the comments by Zhang also revealed Beijing's fears about escalating conflicts in Hong Kong, including the looming threat of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.
In July a video of a teacher yelling abuse at police for their handling of a dispute between the Falun Gong and a pro-government youth group went viral online and led to accusations that officers had shown bias towards the youth group. Detractors of the teacher staged a pro-police rally last month that ended in chaos as scuffles broke out.
Lai was leading a 60-strong delegation of Hong Kong's disciplined services on a four-day official visit to the capital and its coastal neighbour Tianjin .
Five departmental chiefs - from the police, immigration, customs, fire services and correctional services - attended the meeting with Zhang, along with Wang Guangya , director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and Zhang Xiaoming , director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong.
While Lai and the five departmental chiefs regularly go to the mainland, normally they would be received by ministerial-level officials. It is rare for a top state leader like Zhang to receive them and give a high-profile speech.
Executive councillor and former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee described the meeting as pioneering.
"I think Beijing was aware that the disciplined services, especially those on the front line, have borne a lot of pressure [maintaining] public order during [protests in Hong Kong] in recent years," Ip said.
It was the first time in nearly two years that the security minister had met Beijing's top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the unusual meeting highlighted Beijing's worry about "social movements on the streets, and the possibility of Occupying Central", advocated as a last push for democracy in Hong Kong.