As Hong Kong moves closer to the day when it was promised direct elections for its legislature and the chief executive, political analysts in the former British colony are beginning to question whether Beijing will ever allow genuine democracy in the territory.
The city's Economic Journal newspaper on Monday quoted former Hong Kong delegate to China's parliament in Beijing, Wu Kangmin, as saying that Beijing was unlikely to allow the territory, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, full democracy.
Instead, the pro-Beijing Wu, a former representative to the National People's Congress, told the paper that Beijing was likely to "set the bar higher" for electoral candidates.
"Personally, I am not optimistic that we will be able to implement universal elections by 2017," Wu said.
The increasing tension over whether the move to full suffrage, which is provided for in Hong Kong's mini-constitution, has led many to believe that hope for full democracy is fading fast.
Liu Dawen, former editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Outpost, said Beijing had a habit of playing its cards close to the chest when it came to Hong Kong's political future.
"The central government lies," Liu said. "It is their habit to make big statements, but you can't rely on them."
"They will probably set the bar higher for candidates, setting conditions that are aimed at excluding the democratic camp, so they won't be able to get nominated," she said.
"I think that now is the time for Hong Kong people to speak out about this."
She said that in spite of promises made that Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" agreement, Beijing had nonetheless interfered directly in the political life of the territory on a number of occasions.
"I think that this has given people an idea of just how sincere they are about one country, two systems," Liu said.
Last month, Hong Kong University law professor Dai Yaoting wrote a commentary saying he had given up hope of direct elections in 2017, calling on citizens to occupy the central business district to call for democracy.
And Chen Jianmin of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said he would boycott further consultation exercises with Chinese officials on the topic.
Liu said Chinese officials had held off from interfering in Hong Kong's affairs for a few years following the handover, so as to avoid causing alarm.
"Now, even business associations from small Chinese towns feel free to interfere in Hong Kong's elections," she said.
She said Hong Kong citizens wouldn't be given democracy by Beijing.
"Any democracy or freedom has to be struggled for," she said. "If we just rely on their generosity, we definitely won't get it."
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Jan. 1 to demand the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying and universal elections for his replacement.
Leung was narrowly selected for the chief executive job this year by a pro-Beijing committee, although Hong Kong has been promised full and direct elections of the chief executive and the legislature by 2020.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong has been promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and political analysts say that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
Last year, proposals for patriotic education in the territory's schools were shelved after thousands of protesters camped outside government headquarters for several weeks, dressed in black and chanting for the withdrawal from the curriculum of what they called "brainwashing" propaganda from the Communist Party.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.