Senior Chinese official calls for Hong Kong to oppose independence

November 29, 2016 8:18 AM EST

A Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong flag fly outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China November 7, 2016, as China's parliament passed an interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law on Monday that says lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city


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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's government hopes Hong Kong will oppose independence, a top Communist Party official said on Tuesday in a meeting with a pro-Beijing group from the southern financial hub.

Chinese leaders are concerned about a fledgling independence movement in the former British colony that returned to mainland rule in 1997 with a promise of autonomy, and recent protests in the city.

The comments by Zhang Dejiang, the most senior Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong affairs, come after Beijing staged a rare interpretation of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, this month to effectively bar pro-independence city lawmakers from taking office there.

China's central government "hopes Hong Kong compatriots can clearly oppose Hong Kong independence, jointly safeguard Hong Kong's social and political stability" and "amass popular sentiment to seek development and promote harmony", Zhang told a delegation from a group called Silent Majority for Hong Kong.

Zhang, who also heads China's parliament and is the third most senior Communist Party official, told the group in Beijing that China would safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests.

Hong Kong's High Court this month backed a government demand to bar two recently elected lawmakers from the city's legislature, after the court and Beijing both ruled they had insulted China with gestures of protest when taking their oath of office.

Before the ruling, about 2,000 lawyers protested against Beijing stepping in and interpreting the city's mini-constitution in the middle of the lawsuit, which they said interfered with judicial independence.

President Xi Jinping last week told Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying he should uphold national unity and maintain social and political stability.

Earlier in November, Xi said China would never allow any part of its territory to break away.

Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" agreement that ensured its freedoms and wide-ranging autonomy, including a separate legal system.

But Communist Party rulers in Beijing have ultimate control, and some Hong Kong people are concerned they are increasingly interfering to head off dissent.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)



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