UPDATED at 4:30 P.M. EST on 2016-03-30
Three days after a new political party said it would campaign for independence for the former British colony, Hong Kong's government on Wednesday warned it would take action against "any suggestion" that the city should go it alone.
In an unprecedented statement given the semi-autonomous city's traditional freedoms of speech and association, the Special Administrative Government issued a statement on its website warning against further discussion of the topic.
"The Hong Kong SAR is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China," the statement said.
"Any suggestion that Hong Kong should be independent or any movement to advocate such 'independence' is against the Basic Law," it said, in a reference to the mini-constitution that has governed Hong Kong since the 1997 handover to China.
Such suggestions would "undermine the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and impair the interest of the general public," it said, warning: "The SAR Government will take action according to the law."
Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the city to enact laws "to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government," but an attempt to bring in such legislation in 2002 sparked a massive demonstration on July 1, 2003, hastening the departure of then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.
The warning, which appeared to mimic exactly the wording used by Chinese officials, comes after activists announced the formation of the Hong Kong National Party on Sunday, setting out a pro-independence and anti-Basic Law agenda.
"The Hong Kong National Party will take part in any form of effective disobedience, including in the legislature, on the streets, and in the court of public opinion," the party's convenor Chan Ho-tin told reporters.
"We will also participate in labor strikes, as well as class and market boycotts," Chan said in video footage posted by government broadcaster RTHK.
Legal basis of threat questioned
The party said in response to the government's warning on Wednesday that the Basic Law was "a draconian law" drafted without any input from the people of Hong Kong.
"Our party regards [the government's warning] as a legal absurdity," it said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
"In no civilized society in the 21st century with a constitutional government do people get charged with crimes like separatism or incitement to overthrow the government."
"We will fight this draconian law all the way ... and campaign alongside the people of Hong Kong for independence," the statement said.
Chan had earlier said the party plans to field candidates in forthcoming elections to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he knew of no legal basis for the government's apparent threat.
"There is no mention of Hong Kong independence in any of Hong Kong's laws, and merely talking about it comes under freedom of expression, which is protected under international covenants and in the Basic Law," To told RFA.
"However, it is a crime to use force or terrorism to coerce the government into doing something," he said.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights remained in force following the 1997 handover, after which the city was promised no change in its traditional freedoms for 50 years.
The Basic Law also guarantees the right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and of publication; freedom of association, freedom of
assembly, freedom of procession, of demonstration, of communication, of movement, of conscience, of religious belief, and of marriage; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.
China's official media slammed Chan's party, calling it a purveyor of "illegal" and "extreme" ideas.
"Extreme ideas are emerging in Hong Kong, but establishing a Hong Kong National Party is taking it too far," the Global Times newspaper, which is published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial.
"Hong Kong independence is a fake proposition without any possibility of realization," it said, questioning whether advocacy of independence should be protected by the city's traditional freedom of speech.
It said "the consensus is that turning illegal ideas into action is not related to freedom of speech and therefore should result in legal consequences," the paper said.
It called for steps to be taken "to prevent radicals from harming the normal functions of society."
Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.