Beijing's top official on Hong Kong affairs has acknowledged for the first time that the city's capacity for mainland tourists is a matter of concern for the central government.
National People's Congress head Zhang Dejiang - the nation's third most powerful politician - told a closed meeting of Hong Kong delegates at the annual NPC session in Beijing yesterday that the problem had been "taken note of".
Zhang said the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council and the China National Tourism Administration should look at the issue with the Hong Kong government, said sources at the meeting.
Ip Kwok-him, a local NPC deputy who was in attendance, said the NPC chairman wanted to know what resources the city had, so as to ensure trips by mainland visitors were "worthwhile and happy".
Ip said Zhang referred to the recent ill-tempered demonstrations by some Hong Kong people against mainland tourists.
Ip added: "Zhang said the recent protests were derogatory, intensified social divisions and were inappropriate."
Zhang expressed his concerns as he reiterated Beijing's stance on political reform, warning the city could face "disastrous consequences" if it adopted Western-style democracy.
Ma Fung-kwok, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, quoted Zhang as saying: "You cannot just move or copy [the electoral system] from abroad, otherwise you might very easily find it can't adapt to the local environment and become a democracy trap ... and possibly bring a disastrous result." Ma did not specify what such a disaster might be.
Others at the meeting said Zhang also re-emphasised key criteria for candidates in the election for chief executive in 2017.
He said candidates must "love" China and abide by the Basic Law, which states that all candidates must be approved by a "broadly representative nominating committee" - a body more than likely dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists.
The pan-democratic camp wants the public to be allowed to nominate candidates, as in Legislative Council elections and in many overseas polls.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the NPC's Standing Committee, said Zhang emphasised that the electoral method must follow the Basic Law and fit the actual situation in Hong Kong.
"He said Hong Kong is not a sovereign state … so we cannot copy Western models," Fan said.
Zhang was also said to have issued a veiled attack on the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement, which threatens to block roads in the city's financial district if authorities fail to deliver on genuine democracy.
Additional reporting by Reuters