China's top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs said Beijing will ensure only people loyal to it become the city's chief executive, damping hopes of pro-democracy activists.
The majority of representatives in Hong Kong's Cabinet, judiciary and legislative bodies should also support the central government, Zhang Xiaoming said in a post on the agency's website. He said the city's inability to implement Article 23 – a law that prohibits acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government – and its failure to set up units to follow through were the main reasons separatist movements are on the rise.
In 2003, the Hong Kong government halted implementation of the controversial article in its mini constitution, the Basic Law, after rolling protests drew hundreds of thousands of people.
Hong Kong has endured about five straight months of violent protests this year that started in opposition to a proposed law which would have allowed extraditions to other jurisdictions, including China. While the bill was withdrawn, the demonstrations have developed into anti-Beijing expressions and demands have broadened to include democratic elections for lawmakers and the chief executive.
"This is part of Beijing's plan to tighten control over Hong Kong and exert further pressure on the pro-democracy camp," said Joseph Cheng, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong and pro-democracy activist. "The present situation in Hong Kong has turned into a crisis and that's giving Chinese leaders a reason to press for a hard line."
Zhang's words are likely to further anger activists who are calling for an escalation of demonstrations as they mark the death this week of a student who fell off a building near a demonstration where police carried out a dispersal operation. The city is due to hold elections next September for members of its lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, which are expected to be fiercely contested, given the ongoing unrest.
(Natalie Lung contributed to this report.)