HONG KONG - Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests have escalated into a national security issue threatening Chinese sovereignty over the Asian financial centre, a delegate to China's rubber-stamp parliament said on Thursday.
Businessman and lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was crucial to the city's future stability and there was no longer any room to remain neutral.
The protesters have blocked key intersections for a month in their demand for fully-democratic elections for the city's next chief executive in 2017. Beijing has said it will only allow a vote among pre-screened candidates.
While the protests have remained largely peaceful, flashes of violence and dramatic images of students dressed in raincoats and safety goggles using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray have reared a new political consciousness in the city of seven million.
"Because China has declared there are foreign forces and political influence behind Occupy Central, it has been elevated to a national security issue," Tien said, referring to one of the protest groups.
"They are not fighting for democracy. They are fighting for independence. We are dealing with a sovereignty issue... Occupy Central is asking for complete democracy, something that only an independent state can provide."
Tien was speaking a day after his brother, James Tien Pei-chun, was expelled from China's top parliamentary advisory body and resigned as leader of Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Liberal Party after urging the Leung to step down. Beijing has said it fully supports Leung.
James Tien's swift removal from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a sign of how concerned Beijing is about the protests which, at their peak, drew more than 100,000 people into the streets.
Hong Kong's increasingly charged political climate is also putting Chinese government officials on tenterhooks.
China's liaison office in Hong Kong called an urgent meeting with Liberal Party leaders on Tuesday, calling them in the morning and asking them to attend a dinner meeting that night, said Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung.