By Clare Baldwin
HONG KONG, May 17 (Reuters) - Authorities worried about
increasingly strident calls for Hong Kong independence are
taking no chances ahead of a rare visit from one of China's top
ranking officials, shutting down swathes of the city and
reportedly gluing down pavers to quell the prospect of violent
Mainland Chinese media have cited the visit by Zhang
Dejiang, China's No. 3 and the first senior official to come
since the 2014 Occupy democracy protests, as an example of
Beijing's concern and support for the Asian financial hub.
Yet tensions are so palpable that thousands police have been
mobilised to secure the city during Zhang's visit, which begins
on Tuesday. Local media reported pavement bricks were being
cemented to prevent them being used as missiles while police
were camping atop a mountain where a pro-democracy banner was
hung two years ago.
Independence, a taboo topic under both British and Chinese
rule, has become increasingly mainstream subject in Hong Kong,
with some activists calling for an outright breakaway from
China, a move some politicians say would imperil Hong Kong's
economic and political future.
"These young people have no idea that they could be putting
Hong Kong on a potentially dangerous collision course with the
motherland and bringing an unmitigated disaster," wrote former
top Hong Kong security official Regina Ip in an editorial in the
state-run China Daily.
"Separatism, or rather the anti-mainland doctrine in
disguise, will...doom Hong Kong."
The young activists see it differently.
"(We) are facing a very great threat from China: Our
culture, our language, our people...we are dying!" said Chan
Ho-tin, the head of the newly-formed National party, expected to
contest legislative elections in September.
"Do (Hong Kong people) want to be a Chinese city or do they
want to be an independent country? There are only two choices."
Joshua Wong, another prominent young activist who launched a
new political party called Demosisto this year, wouldn't rule
out taking an independence line in upcoming campaigns.
"The problem with young people is that they are not 100
percent pre-occupied with economic considerations," said Michael
Tien, a Hong Kong delegate to China's parliament, the National
People's Congress, which Zhang heads.
"A lot of young people saying they don't want development,
they want a better environment, they want better work-life
balance, they want better quality of life."
Hong Kong guarantees freedom of expression under the
agreement that saw Britain return its former colony to Beijing
in 1997, but authorities haven't ruled out taking action against
"Any suggestion that (Hong Kong) should be independent or
any movement to advocate such independence...would be
inconsistent with the legal status of Hong Kong," the Department
of Justice (DOJ) told Reuters.
The DOJ said it was watching for "possible criminal
activities" and would "closely monitor the situation, maintain
close liaison with the relevant law enforcement agencies, and
take such action as may be necessary."
Hong Kong authorities said the "counter-terrorism security
measures" were needed to ensure the safety of dignitaries during
China is an umbilical cord for Hong Kong's economy, with
Chinese capital succouring financial markets and millions of
Chinese visitors powering its tourism and retail sectors.
"Acts in favour of Hong Kong independence harm the
sovereignty and security of the country, harm the prosperity and
stability of Hong Kong, and harm the fundamental interests of
Hong Kong," Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Hong Lei told
reporters on Monday.
Hong Kong also relies on China for food, water and
electricity, making independence almost impossible in practice.
"A lot of people in Hong Kong have jobs associated with the
mainland," said Holden Chow, vice-chairman of the DAB party,
Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party.
"If there are no more economic ties...then where are the
jobs? There would be a rise in unemployment."
DON'T VOTE FOR 'THE EXTREMISTS'
While Hong Kong's independence movement is perhaps more a
reflection of worsening political divisions than a realizable
goal, the challenge to Beijing's authority is unnerving some.
Observers with close ties to Chinese officials say one of
Zhang's priorities will be establishing relations with more
moderate democrats to lower the heat.
"He will send a positive signal to any pan-democrat who is
willing to have a dialogue with China," Tien said.
"This must be one of his key missions: To make sure the
signal is strong enough that the electorate won't lambast the
moderate pan-democrats and give all their votes to the
(Additional reporting by Stefanie McIntyre, Pak Yiu, Stella
Tsang and Teenie Ho; Editing by James Pomfret and Lincoln Feast)