BEIJING • China's central government strongly supports efforts by the government in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong to curb moves by some to promote independence for the global financial hub, President Xi Jinping said yesterday.
Chinese leaders are increasingly 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. Meeting in Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound, Mr Xi told outgoing Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying that the central government fully affirms Mr Leung's work, state news agency Xinhua reported.
"The central government staunchly supports the government of the Special Administrative Region in curbing the activities of 'Hong Kong independence'," Mr Xi told Mr Leung.
Hong Kong's success under the "one country, two systems" agreement has been obvious for all to see, added Mr Xi, although he admitted that it was not all plain sailing.
" 'One country, two systems' is a new undertaking, and it is normal that in its practice, new situations and problems may arise," he said, without explaining what those might be.
Hong Kong was developing stably economically, politically and in society, and Beijing wants its people to be happy and its society to be harmonious, Mr Xi added.
In a bombshell announcement earlier this month, Mr Leung said he would not stand for re-election next year. He cited family reasons for the decision, but it led to speculation in Hong Kong media that he had lost favour with Beijing.
Mr Leung is deeply unpopular in the city as he is seen to please the central government at the expense of Hong Kongers.
Mr Xi said yesterday that he respected Mr Leung's decision not to seek re-election and praised him for his work, saying that on important issues such as curbing Hong Kong independence and handling street violence, he had worked in strict accordance with the Basic Law and the National People's Congress' interpretation of that law. Mr Leung, who was on his final annual visit to Beijing, also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday.
Mr Li lauded Mr Leung for being "proactive and pragmatic", saying that the city's economy was still in good shape amid the global instability, reported the South China Morning Post. Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday praised the Chief Executive as a patriot.
"The Chief Executive is young and talented," he said of the 62-year-old Leung in the opening minutes of their meeting. "You love the country as well as Hong Kong."
Beijing last month staged a rare interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-Constitution, to effectively bar pro-independence city lawmakers from taking office there. Hong Kong had returned to China under the "one country, two systems" agreement, which ensured its 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 in the city's affairs to head off dissent.