Beijing's top representative to Hong Kong has accused foreign forces of conspiring with "a minority" group of Hong Kongers to block China's rise.
Such "national security concerns" are why strictures must be in place to ensure that whoever becomes leader of the city will not be one who will harm the interests of both the country and Hong Kong, Mr Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office, said in a rare public speech yesterday.
"In recent times, our country has been on the rise. But not everyone is happy to see this; on the global stage, some forces are finding all ways to create obstacles and hamper our growth and continuously create trouble for us," he said.
"There have also been many things happening in Hong Kong and this also includes the activities of a minority who gang up with foreign forces - which cannot but put us on high alert."
The speech, which also touched on Chinese leaders' determination to wipe out corruption "despite pain" and China-Hong Kong relations, comes as the city undergoes its biggest political turmoil since the 1997 handover, over constitutional reform.
It also brings to the fore long-held fears in Beijing that Hong Kong, governed under the "one country, two systems" framework, is a potential base for subversion - and is a signal that the leadership is unlikely to relax tight restrictions on Hong Kong's chief executive race which pan-democrats say deprive the electorate of "meaningful choice".
Hong Kong is due to be allowed to directly elect its leader in 2017, but is now locked in a battle with Beijing over the nominating process to pre-screen candidates. An "Occupy Central" civil disobedience campaign to push for "genuine universal suffrage" could take place as early as next month.
Mr Zhang did not specify which foreign forces he was referring to. But days earlier, unidentified parties hacked into the computers of pro-democracy Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai's aide, leaking e-mail that indicate close ties with American politicians.
Mr Lai was also shown to have made donations to pan-democrat politicians, including Mr Lee Cheuk Yan who organises the yearly Tiananmen vigil, and spent money to promote Occupy Central's democracy referendum.
China has routinely protested against any perceived interference in Hong Kong by diplomats and officials from the US and Britain. Last month, Beijing accused London of interfering in its internal affairs after British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met pro-democracy activists Anson Chan and Martin Lee. The pair urged London not to turn a blind eye to "attacks" on freedoms in its former colony, and Mr Clegg later said that he would "not shy away" from promoting democracy in Hong Kong.
In April, China similarly warned the US not to meddle in Hong Kong affairs after Vice-President Joseph Biden met the duo.
Mr Zhang also broached the possibility that Hong Kong may not see the successful passage of constitutional reform. A compromise between both camps is required as the Legislative Council needs to pass it with a two-thirds majority. "Even if the constitutional reform is not passed, it will not change the central government's attitudes towards the 'one country two systems' framework," he said.
This article was first published on August 8, 2014.
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