China's third-ranked leader says to pay more attention to HK youth

Mr Zhang Dejiang attending the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2015.  -- PHOTO: AFP
Mr Zhang Dejiang attending the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2015.  -- PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - China's third-ranked leader wants greater attention paid to young people in Hong Kong, after they staged pro-democracy protests last year that shut down parts of the city for 2-1/2 months.

Mr Zhang Dejiang, who heads China's largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, said last year's "illegal acts" highlight an urgent need to focus on young people and possibly revive the idea of a patriotic curriculum, Hong Kong media said on Thursday.

The comments echo remarks last month by the head of China's Hong Kong liaison office, who said Beijing aimed to tighten control of the global financial hub and warned that the central government could take a renewed interest in patriotic education, an issue that sparked mass protests in Hong Kong in 2012.

Mr Zhang also urged Hong Kong and China to seek "specific solutions" to recent protests against traders and visitors from the mainland, and warned against those with "ulterior motives", according to reports of a closed-door session of the National People's Congress held in Beijing on Wednesday.

He urged political appointees from Hong Kong to "carry forward the honourable tradition of loving China, Hong Kong and Macau" and "contribute to safeguarding the country's sovereignty, security and development, and maintaining its stability," the official Xinhua news agency said.

The central government would give its full support to the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau as they seek to "advance democracy and promote social harmony", Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening of parliament in Beijing on Thursday.

The duration and intensity of last year's democracy protests surprised government officials in Hong Kong and China.

The protesters, led by students, shut key thoroughfares to press their demand for open nominations in the next election of the chief executive in 2017, saying Beijing's decision to limit a vote to pre-screened candidates was not good enough.

A former British colony that returned to Chinese Communist Party rule in 1997, Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" framework gives it separate laws and an independent judiciary but reserves key decisions for Beijing.

Beijing's unwillingness to negotiate over the election of the next chief executive has upset residents, prompting a new wave of more radical protests against traders and mainland visitors, whom Hong Kong residents have long accused of flooding shopping malls and emptying store shelves.

Since the beginning of the year activists have staged weekend protests at malls, urging mainlanders to return home and advocating a greater Hong Kong nationalism and even independence.