Hong Kong police on Thursday chased down and detained five pro-democracy activists after they tried to protest along the route of a motorcade carrying a visiting Chinese leader.
Joshua Wong, student leader of the 2014 pro-democracy movement, was chased along a busy highway by Hong Kong traffic police on motorbikes after he and fellow activists waved banners, footage shot at the scene and streamed live to Facebook showed.
The activists were pinned to the ground or to nearby fences as police tried to grab their phones, shouting to each other to stop them filming their own arrests.
Wong and four other members of his fledgling Demosisto political party were detained ahead of the arrival of a motorcade transporting parliamentary chief Zhang Dejiang, who wrapped up a three-day trip to the city later the same day.
Wong, Nathan Law, Oscar Lai, and two others were detained after camping overnight in the hills overlooking the highway, in a bid to evade tight security surrounding Zhang's visit.
The group said they had wanted to express their desire for self-determination for the former British colony, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under the terms of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
Activists also hung a yellow banner calling for "genuine universal suffrage" for Hong Kong people from a nearby hillside and within view of the motorcade.
"[Protesters] rushed out near the tunnel front to voice out the demand of self determination and the anger of people against the interference of the Chinese government," Demosisto's Agnes Chow said in a statement after the incident.
Zhang chairs the powerful standing committee of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), whose decree that Beijing must vet electoral candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 race for chief executive sparked the student-led Occupy Central movement that gripped the city for 79 days.
Earlier this week, Zhang met with pan-democratic lawmakers who asked him to remove the city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying, after he said the deeply unpopular Leung has the backing of Beijing and called on the city to get behind their leader.
He later denied claims that Chinese official interference is rapidly dissolving Hong Kong's status as a separate jurisdiction.
"The argument that the central government is trying to turn Hong Kong into mainland [China], or to turn 'one country, two systems' into 'one country, one system' is totally baseless," Zhang told a banquet in his honor.
He also warned against growing calls among a younger generation of activists for independence for the city.
"The past 19 years since the handover have shown ... that the Basic Law is fundamentally correct and viable, as is the 'one country, two systems' model," Zhang said.
"Throw that away, and Hong Kong will be done for."
"Self-determination, independence: none of it will work," Zhang said.
"It's like being on a ship. If Hong Kong is doing well, then everybody benefits. If Hong Kong falls into chaos, then everybody will have to pay the price."
Many want independence
Demosisto has made "self-determination," which it refuses to define, a key part of its political platform, while the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) advocates independence outright.
HKNP convenor Chan Ho-tin told RFA on Thursday that recent media polls suggest that some 14 percent of Hong Kong people support the idea of independence.
"That's a million people, so we can tell that a lot of Hong Kong people are thinking about this, that they support independence for Hong Kong," Chan said.
"A lot of people want independence, but they lack confidence when it comes to actually implementing it."
Chan rejected recent warnings from Hong Kong officials that those who advocate something not contained in the Basic Law might be targeted for criminal prosecution, in spite of free speech protections hard-wired into the city's mini-constitution.
"It's not against the law to discuss the topic," he said. "If they detain us or place restrictions on us because we advocate independence, they they will face legal action for acting unconstitutionally."
"That would precipitate a huge political crisis, and even more of a backlash."
But Alan Leong, who heads the pan-democratic Civic Party, said Zhang's comments would likely put pressure on Hong Kong's judiciary, in spite of promises of a lack of political interference.
"People are going to start thinking that he is trying to interfere with judicial independence," Leong said. "[Zhang] was standing on that line, but he just stopped himself from crossing it."
"I actually think that his comments were a form of pressure."
Political commentator Cai Yongmei said Zhang's main aim was to smooth over political tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing after the Occupy Central movement, and after the "disappearances" of five of the city's booksellers to police stations in mainland China, one of whom was apparently detained by agents of the Chinese state and smuggled across the border.
"I think the main point of his visit was to reassure and to win some people over and encourage others," Cai said.
She said Beijing is coming round to the view that a strong Hong Kong identity in the form of a localist movement is acceptable.
"There is already a consensus around localism in Hong Kong.Even the [pro-Beijing] Liberal Party talks about the localist faction in politics now," Cai said.
"I think Beijing's bottom line is that it will recognise the localist movement, but it can't tolerate [those who work for] Hong Kong independence."
Veteran journalist Ching Cheong said Zhang's comments were unnecessarily heavy-handed, however.
"He was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, because there is always the possibility that the judiciary may now go after Hong Kong independence activists," Ching said.
"So maybe we don't have two systems in one country after all, but just one."
"Zhang Dejiang should ask himself why Hong Kong people might want independence in the first place," he added.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.