China's Premier Li Keqiang dismisses worries of tightening controls over Hong Kong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday dismissed worries that Beijing would tighten controls over Hong Kong, saying that the country's leaders would not "easily" change the policy towards the former British colony.

Mr Li said the government was committed to the consistent and full implementation of the "one-country, two systems" policy. "Some people worry whether the central government will tighten these policies toward Hong Kong. There is no need," Mr Li said at a briefing after the close of an annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp Parliament, the National People's Congress. "The Basic Law stipulates that the systems of the special administrative region, and 'one country, two systems' policy represent the will of the country and the desire of the people. They cannot be changed easily."

China's third-ranked leader Zhang Dejiang said in early March that a patriotic curriculum for Hong Kong youth could be needed after "illegal" street protests by student-led pro-democracy activists. The comments echoed 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.

Among other topics, Mr Li said that his government respected the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, but would not be drawn on whether China considers Crimea to be Ukraine's or Russia's. He also said China's relations with Japan face a "test" this year linked to whether Japan can properly atone for its wartime past. And he said that the government had the responsibility and the ability to defend its border with Myanmar, after China said a bomb from a Myanmar aircraft fell in its territory and killed four people.

"On the issue of Ukraine, China has adopted an objective and just position. We respect Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr Li told the news conference, adding that he had recently told this to Ukraine's President.

"At the same time, the Ukraine issue has added to the complexity of the geopolitical situation and has affected the process of the global economic recovery. We still hope that this issue can be resolved via dialogue, negotiations and consultations," he added.

"As for Crimea, there are complicated contributing factors. We also hope that it can be resolved politically via dialogue and hope that neighbours can peacefully coexist," he said, when asked about China's position on who owns Crimea.

China and Russia see eye-to-eye on many international diplomatic issues, but Beijing has been careful not to be drawn into the struggle between Russia and the West over Ukraine's future, not wanting to alienate a key ally in Moscow.

It has said it would like to continue to develop "friendly cooperation" with Ukraine, and repeatedly said it respects the ex-Soviet state's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. China has also shown little interest in getting involved in diplomatic efforts to end the crisis. Nonetheless, Chinese officials have said that Western powers should take into consideration Russia's legitimate security concerns over Ukraine. Russia annexed Crimea last year.

On Japan, Mr Li said: "It is true that the current China-Japan relationship is in difficulty.

"The crux of the issue is how the war and that part of history are viewed."

"Ties faced both "a test and an opportunity", he added.

And on the border issue with Myanmar, he said: "We have the responsibility and the ability to firmly defend the stability of the China-Myanmar border, and firmly protect the lives and the security of the property of our people."