BEIJING (REUTERS) - Hong Kong must protect the security and dignity of Chinese visitors, a Chinese official said on Wednesday, following incidents of mainlanders being harassed by Hong Kong activists upset by what they see as Chinese interference in the territory.
Beijing's ties with the largely self-ruled former colony have become increasingly fraught as the perception has grown in Hong Kong that China's ruling Communist Party is increasingly prepared to impose its will on the city.
Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 with Beijing's promises to leave its political system unchanged for 50 years.
The student-led "umbrella movement" saw hundreds of thousands of people blockade major roads for 79 days last year in a push for full democracy, in one of the most overt challenges to the Communist Party's grip on power since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 that ended in bloodshed.
In recent weeks, a cluster of outspoken groups in Hong Kong has staged small but disruptive protests targeting mainland Chinese visitors.
"Hong Kong is an international city and so Hong Kong has a responsibility to protect all visitors, including the security and dignity of mainland tourists," Fu Ying, the spokeswoman of China's parliament, told a news conference in Beijing.
She was speaking ahead of the opening of the annual meeting of China's legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC).
Big-spending mainland Chinese shoppers have been avoiding Hong Kong in the wake of the protests. In January, normally buoyant retail sales slid 14.6 per cent from a year earlier, in their worst showing since 2003.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has promised to raise concerns about Chinese tourists with central government authorities while he is in Beijing for the NPC session.
"In the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong, I hope that misunderstandings and disagreements can be resolved, and that we can walk forward together," Fu said.
She urged Hong Kong to work with China as a team and warned that "negative energy" would make it hard to get things done.
"I always feel, personally, that there should be mutual respect and we must remember the goodness of each other."