The unexpected big win by young localists in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) elections on Sunday has meant the city's pro-independence forces have become a reality and Beijing must find ways to deal with them, say analysts.
The results - with seven localists elected to the 70-seat Legco - have heightened tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland, said law expert Tian Feilong from Beijing's Beihang University.
"The emergence of pro-independence forces has now become an indisputable fact," he said.
Analysts told The Straits Times that as this was a surprising outcome for Beijing, it is likely to take some time to study the results.
"Beijing could roll out some policy changes in the future," said Hong Kong-based political scientist James Sung. But for now, it remains to be seen how the pro-establishment, pan-democrat and localist camps will interact to create new dynamics in the Legco, said Dr Sung.
"The real challenge for Beijing is to establish some minimal communication with the young blood while, at the same time, find ways to push the pan-democrats to (be more positive) towards Beijing," he added.
Agreeing, Dr Tian said given that the central government has "zero contact" with these localists, both sides need to take time to build some basic political consensus.
"This is a new situation for all, political watchers and the central government alike, so it's hard to tell what is Beijing's bottom line and how far it is willing to tolerate (these localists)," said Dr Tian.
But analysts said Beijing will not allow for any suggestion of an independent Hong Kong. If there is any danger of that, it is likely to invoke the Basic Law, the city's mini-Constitution, to take direct actions against the separatist forces.
Hong Kong affairs expert Zou Pingxue from Shenzhen University cautioned against painting an overly negative picture of the localists.
"We need not be afraid of the localists," said Dr Zou, adding that only the extremists among them are threats to the country.
"We should deal with the localist sentiments rationally. One can be both pro-Hong Kong and pro-country at the same time," he said.