A top Chinese official has hit out at the rise of "localist and separatist ideas" among young people in Hong Kong, calling on them to recognize that the former British colony is now a part of China.
Zhang Xiaoming, the ruling Chinese Communist Party's envoy to the city, warned that young Hong Kong people would be unable to realize their life goals without a change in attitude.
"If the youth of Hong Kong want to realize their life goals, they need to properly recognize ... the relationship that Hong Kong has with the rest of the country," Zhang said on Tuesday. "They need to take a national perspective, which will come from looking to the north, to China."
"Localist and separatist ideas are very popular in Hong Kong at the moment, and some young people are being led astray by such ideas," Zhang said. "There really needs to be an emphasis on the correct understanding of the relationship between Hong Kong and the rest of China."
Zhang's comments came after Chinese University of Hong Kong student leader Justin Au said his union's members didn't consider themselves to be Chinese.
He said many students in Hong Kong no longer see the mainland Chinese democracy movement as a key responsibility.
"We don’t think that that’s a responsibility of Hongkongers because it’s the affair of China and we Hongkongers don’t regard ourselves as Chinese," he said.
'No future' under Chinese rule
The city's outgoing chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, chimed in in support of Zhang.
"I believe that if they can ponder for a bit, they'll know Hong Kong is a part of China. No matter what they think, people in society, including international society, will treat you as Chinese," Leung said.
"Even for Hong Kong people holding foreign passports. When you travel to other countries, people there will treat you as Chinese, by looking at your name, your cultural background and upbringing."
But Tony Chung, convenor of the student group Studentlocalism, said the opposite is true.
"It's only through the study of the histories of China and Hong Kong that they arrive at the conclusion that they don't trust the Chinese communist regime," Chung said. "They know only too well that there is no future for us under Chinese rule."
"That's why they support fairly radical political ideas, including that of Hong Kong independence."
Growing talk of independence has coincided with the erosion of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms of speech, publication, and judicial independence in recent years and a stalled timetable for full democracy.
Some 40 percent of young people support the idea, compared with around 70 percent who oppose it across all age groups, according to recent opinion polls.
Sea-change in thinking
Meanwhile, Nathan Law, lawmaker for the post-Occupy Central party Demosisto, said the younger generation was 'lost,' politically speaking, on China's watch.
"If you look at the recent opinion poll figures, the proportion who support the establishment number in single figures," Law said. "There is a very clear sea-change in people's thinking."
"The Chinese government is moving in the opposite direction to the universal values espoused by young people in Hong Kong," he said.
He said it was legitimate to ask what the city's future would be after the 50-year period government by the 1984 handover agreement and the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Last month, Zhang said China would consolidate its sovereignty over Hong Kong, which marks 20 years under Chinese rule on July 1.
"The relationship between the central government and Hong Kong is that of delegation of power, not power-sharing," Zhang said as Beijing plans to strengthen political control over the city's government.
"Under no circumstances should the central government’s powers be confronted in the name of a high degree of autonomy," Zhang was quoted as saying by the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper.
He also urged lawmakers to reintroduce controversial subversion laws that sparked mass protests back in 2003.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.