China warns independence candidates in Hong Kong election

China warned Wednesday against Hong Kong pro-independence parties running in the city`s upcoming elections as the movement gains traction among some young campaigners.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 20, 2016, 16:35 PM IST

Hong Kong: China warned Wednesday against Hong Kong pro-independence parties running in the city`s upcoming elections as the movement gains traction among some young campaigners.

It comes days after leaders of two pro-independence groups nominated candidates for the September parliamentary vote.

A concern is growing that the Chinese government is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city, spurring an emerging "localist" movement seeking more autonomy or even a full split from China.

Beijing and authorities in Hong Kong have said the pro-independence movement is against the city`s mini-constitution and that campaigning for a breakaway could result in unspecified "action according to the law".

The director of China`s representative office in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, warned Wednesday against parties transforming the election into a promotion of Hong Kong independence.

"If Hong Kong independence groups are tolerated in entering gloriously into the legislative body of Hong Kong, is this in accordance with "one country, two systems?" Zhang asked in a televised news conference, referring to the city`s semi-autonomous status.

"Which direction would this set Hong Kong society down?...This isn`t just only a legal issue, it`s a major matter of principle, a matter of the bottom line," he said.

The "one country, two systems" deal is enshrined in an agreement when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, guaranteeing its freedoms and way of life for 50 years.

But there are fears those freedoms are being eroded by Beijing interference.

Zhang`s comments come after at least 13 pro-democracy candidates, including some who are campaigning for independence, refused to sign a form reiterating the city is an "inalienable" part of China in order to be nominated a new electoral requirement that has been slammed as political censorship.

Critics say the Hong Kong leadership is merely a puppet of Beijing, particularly since mass rallies in 2014 failed to win political reform.

Negative sentiment has been exacerbated by the disappearance last year of five Hong Kong booksellers from a firm that published gossipy books about leading Chinese politicians. All resurfaced on the mainland.

One of the men, who skipped bail and is now in Hong Kong, told how he was blindfolded, detained and interrogated over alleged involvement in bringing banned books into the mainland.

Pro-independence activists clashed with police in some of the city`s worst violence in decades in February, but have since maintained a fairly low profile.