If you talk about independence for Hong Kong at the dinner table, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if you do it in a big public forum as a call to action you’ll be breaking the law. That was the interpretation of the new legal chief of Beijing’s liaison office on Friday as he accused independence advocates of breaching local criminal laws and set limits on freedom of expression that has so far protected the fledgling political discourse. Wang Zhenmin, also a member of the Basic Law Committee, said those floating the idea of independence were not only in breach of the city’s mini-constitution, but also the Crimes Ordinance and Societies Ordinance. No Hong Kong official has yet made a similar claim publicly. Wang said freedom of speech was “not unlimited”. “Looking ahead, hundreds of or 1,000 years from now, Hong Kong will still be a part of China. The plot [of independence] will never bear fruit,” he said By linking pro-independence speeches with criminality, Wang added a new dimension to condemnation of the growing pro-independence talk, especially among political young people. There has been some concern among officials and pro-establishment figures over the formation of the Hong Kong National Party last month. At the same time, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a core student leader of the Occupy protests in 2014, has vowed to organise a referendum to decide Hong Kong’s future after 2047, with one option being self-determination when the 50 years of autonomy promised by Beijing expire. Speaking to the media after attending a Chinese University forum on legal education, Wang expressed concern about the political discourse and talk of independence. “If a few of you have a chat about it during a meal, you can say this is your freedom,” he said. “But if it’s a large-scale discussion in the hope of gathering a large number of like-minded people to act together, this is ‘sedition’ under the Crimes Ordinance.” The Hong Kong National Party refused to comment yesterday. But Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit questioned Wang’s assertions. “If [someone] is invited to go to a TV talk show and the host asks him what he thinks about Hong Kong independence – even if he is talking on TVB with a viewership of 2.2 million, so what?” said Leong, a former chairman of the Bar Association. Hours before Wang spoke, the University of Hong Kong’s student union organised a talk discussing that very issue – rewriting the city’s constitution in the event of independence. Civic Passion member Dr Cheng Chung-tai, citing England’s Magna Carta in the 13th century, said: “When people find it no longer possible to co-exist with the privileged class, they would mull the idea of independence, or a constitution that binds the privileged.” Cheng, a Polytechnic University teaching fellow, questioned if independence was necessarily a taboo, calling it “a fundamental and inevitable issue in democratic development”. Radical lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said he considered independence an option for Hong Kong.