HONG KONG (Reuters) - China’s third-ranked leader wants greater attention paid to young people in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, after they staged pro-democracy protests last year that shut down parts of the city for two and a half months.
Zhang Dejiang, who heads China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), said last year’s “illegal acts” highlighted a 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.
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 honorable 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.
Xinhua cited several Hong Kong NPC delegates as saying the protest movement was dwindling.
Michael Tien Puk-sun, a delegate whose brother was expelled from an advisory body to parliament after calling for Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign, said that while protests may recur, they would not be as large.
“Currently, Hong Kong public opinion universally supports political reform,” Xinhua cited him as saying, adding that he said supporters of “citizen nomination” were becoming fewer and their voices could barely be heard in Hong Kong.
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.
Anger at 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.
(This version of the story was refiled to change headline)
Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Nicole Li in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie