China's No. 3 Zhang Dejiang leader warns Hong Kong activists against 'crossing a line'

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's third-ranked leader warned advocates of Hong Kong independence on Friday that they were "crossing a line", local media reported.

Mr Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), made the comment during a closed-door meeting, Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported, quoting NPC Standing Committee member Rita Fan. Mr Zhang said that such calls were "dangerous" and would not be tolerated, according to Ms Fan.

Last year's protests in Hong Kong, the duration and intensity of which caught Hong Kong and Chinese government officials off-guard, were mainly led by students. Mr Zhang said on Thursday he wanted greater attention paid to young people in Hong Kong.

The remarks come during the annual meeting in Beijing of the NPC, China's largely rubber-stamp Parliament, attended by about 3,000 delegates.

There is no major independence movement in Hong Kong, but a small and increasingly vocal group of activists have been calling for a stronger Hong Kong identity, including some calls for separation from the mainland.

Last year, pro-democracy activists took to the streets to demand open nominations for the city's next chief executive election in 2017.

Beijing agreed to a vote, but only between pre-screened candidates. It has since said there was no room for negotiation.

Populist anger has widened to include long-standing frustrations with mainland tourists crowding out locals in shopping centres, sparking protests in malls across Hong Kong on most weekends.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. It was returned to Chinese Communist Party rule by the British in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" framework that granted it a separate legal system and independent judiciary, but gave ultimate authority to Beijing.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.