China to target young of Taiwan, Hong Kong to boost loyalty

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to boost the loyalty of young people from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau by organizing “study trips” and exchanges for them to visit the mainland, a top Chinese official said on Friday.

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Young activists in both Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan have irked Beijing in recent years by pushing for greater autonomy or even independence and by organizing protests against China’s influence.

Hong Kong and Macau were former European colonial outposts that returned to Chinese rule in the 1990s.

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, viewing it as a wayward province.

Yu Zhengsheng, the ruling Communist Party’s fourth ranked leader, announced the plan to boost the loyalty to China among young people in all three places at the opening session of a largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament in Beijing.

He said the government would this year organize trips for young people “to visit the mainland on study trips and experience it for themselves”, adding that the trips would “strengthen the love of both region and country among the people of Hong Kong and Macau.”

The government would also increase exchanges with young people in Taiwan in order to “build up public support for the peaceful development of cross-straits relations”, he said.

China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing, which has cut off a formal dialogue mechanism with the island.

Tsai says she wants peace with China.

In 2014, hundreds of students occupied Taiwan’s parliament for weeks in protests nicknamed the Sunflower Movement, demanding more transparency and fearful of China’s growing economic and political influence on the democratic island.

Yu did not say how many young people would be brought to China or give any other details about the plan, or how it may differ from existing schemes.

In the former British colony of Hong Kong, students organized weeks of protests in late 2014 to push for full democracy, but Beijing declined to make concessions.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula granting it extensive autonomy, an independent judiciary and rule of law for at least 50 years.

Yu said China would “remain committed” to the formula.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel