Stability, development and harmony were the watchwords when state leaders met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last week. There was a marked absence of strong comment by Beijing about the democrats vetoing the electoral blueprint. Reaffirming Beijing's consistent policy of developing democratic politics, Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated it should proceed in a steady, healthy and orderly manner. But the tempered remarks of Beijing leaders may seem to some like a lull before the storm. Ten days after the electoral setback, mainland-funded media have fired salvos against the democrats, branding them an opposition faction. On Thursday, a two-page article under the name of a special commentator published in Wen Wei Po raised some eyebrows in political circles. Headlined 'Hong Kong's 'democratic faction' is in essence [an] opposition faction,' the article echoed Mr Tsang's rebranding of the democrats as an opposition faction. It argued the opposition label accurately reflected the nature of the democrats; that is, they oppose whatever the chief executive, the government and the central authorities do. While Beijing's basic policies and approach towards the democrats remain unchanged, the propaganda offensive is indicative of an imminent readjustment in light of the political reform fiasco. A major part of the readjustment involves differentiating between the democrats whom Beijing and the government can talk to and those who are deemed diehard opponents. A case in point is the harsh words against the Article 45 Concern Group in the past two weeks from anonymous government officials and pro-Beijing figures. Considered as moderates in the pro-democracy camp, the four legislators from the concern group had been seen as prime targets in Beijing's united-front gambit after the July 1, 2003 rally. Some members of the Tsang cabinet have also noted that the concern group appeared to be willing to compromise when the constitutional reform blueprint was published in October. They were perplexed by the hardened stance of the group towards the end of the consultation. Pundits said the fact that Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan singled out for criticism Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the concern group at a press conference after the blueprint was vetoed, shows the depth of disappointment and anger among the ruling team towards the rising pro-democratic force. The feeling of anxiety about the concern group has been further compounded by their seemingly close relationship with the former chief secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who is now seen by some in the pro-Beijing circle as a rival to Mr Tsang. But Beijing seems to be at ease with the Legislative Council veto. After all, there has been no immediate, negative impact on the governance of the Tsang administration. The new wave of democrat-bashing, however, shows the growing turbulence beneath the surface of political waters. Shocked and rocked by the July rallies in 2003, the ruling Communist Party has undergone much soul-searching on its approach towards Hong Kong following intensive studies. While economic growth remains the key to the city's future, the leadership is increasingly aware of the relevance and urgency of a string of political and governance issues that could cloud the economic issue. They are among the 'deep-rooted contradictions and problems' under 'one country, two systems' that Premier Wen was probably alluding to when he met Mr Tsang. Regardless of the diverse interpretations of what precisely Mr Wen was referring to, that he has highlighted deep-rooted issues reflects a more down-to-earth approach by the leadership. It makes a mockery of the divisive tactic employed by Mr Tsang and some quarters in the pro-Beijing circle.