Beijing will strictly comply with the Chinese constitution and the city's Basic Law in Hong Kong affairs, Premier Li Keqiang said at the start of annual meetings of the national legislature in Beijing yesterday. It is the first time in 25 years that a premier has highlighted the role of the constitution when discussing Hong Kong matters in his yearly work report, delivered at the start of National People's Congress sessions. The last premier to do so, Li Peng , said in 1990 that Hongkongers wishing to participate in China's affairs "must abide to the nation's constitution and law". His was the first work report after the bloody 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, which sparked mass protests in Hong Kong amid preparations for the 1997 handover. Li yesterday ended his speech by restating two pledges to the city - "the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong" and "a high degree of autonomy". Those promises - made under the "one country, two systems" principle under which the city is governed - were absent from Li's debut work report last year and from Tuesday's report by Yu Zhengsheng , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The omissions raised concerns about whether Beijing was taking a different tack on the city. But in his 1-1/2-hour speech yesterday, Li said: "We [the central government] will steadfastly carry out the principles of 'one country, two systems', the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong, the people of Macau governing Macau, and both regions enjoying a high degree of autonomy. We will strictly comply with the constitution and the Basic Laws of these two regions." Qi Pengfei, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the central government had reinstated the two key promises in an effort to reassure Hongkongers. "The two expressions were not included in last year's work report because the central government believed their meanings were already encompassed in the term 'one country, two systems'," he said. "But that sparked fears among some Hongkongers that Beijing had changed its policies. This year, the central government put back the two expressions to ease those fears." Qi linked Li's remarks on the constitution to calls for Hong Kong's independence and the rise of "nativist" sentiment - the ideology of focusing solely on the city's affairs to the exclusion of national matters. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Hong Kong's sole representative on the NPC Standing Committee, also believed the references to the constitution were meant to remind Hongkongers of China's sovereignty, especially in the light of the independence calls. "In the past year, we have seen people publicly advocating Hong Kong independence, or even raising weird flags at public rallies," she said, referring to colonial-era flags favoured by some activists. But former Hong Kong justice minister Elsie Leung Oi-sie, now deputy director of the NPC's Basic Law Committee in Hong Kong, said she did not think independence concerns - or the 79-day Occupy Central protests last year - were behind Li's remark. "I am not surprised at all, because the constitution applies to every inch of the territory … and Hong Kong is part of China," she said. NPC deputy Maria Tam Wai-chu believed the work report drew attention to the constitution mainly because Beijing wanted to stress its pledge to rule the nation according to the law. Professor Ye Haibo, of Shenzhen University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Basic Laws, saw Beijing as seeking to assert that disputes in interpreting the Basic Law must be resolved under the constitution. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who attended the opening plenary session with about 3,000 other officials and deputies, again received backing from the very top. Li said Beijing "will give full support to the chief executives and governments of Hong Kong and Macau". Leung and other Hong Kong officials later met Wang Guangya , director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, behind closed doors for two hours. It is understood NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang , the top state leader in charge of Hong Kong affairs, could meet Leung today.