The leader of a prominent students' union in Hong Kong issued a call for independence for the city during an inauguration ceremony for the new academic year.
Au Cheuk-hei, president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's student union, said "is a way forward for Hong Kong."
But, as a political viewpoint, it was "neither right nor wrong," Au said, calling on his fellow students to pay more attention to current events and to stand up against injustice.
Au said he believed that recent talk of independence for the city came out of a desire to experience "for real" the high degree of autonomy promised to Hong Kong under the terms of the 1997 handover to China.
His comments were immediately criticized by the city's education secretary Kevin Yeung.
"Hong Kong independence is not feasible in terms of our jurisprudence, actual situation and history, nor is it in line with Hong Kong's status as a part of [China]," Yeung told reporters on Monday.
"Therefore, in the school environment, there is no need or need to publicize or discuss Hong Kong independence ... Such a discussion can only end in one way."
"I wish to reiterate that we feel that it is not necessary to discuss or reaffirm the individual's views on Hong Kong independence at university opening ceremonies," Yeung said.
"Students and student representatives should not talk about Hong Kong independence on these occasions," he said.
He said it was up to the university to "follow up" on such incidents.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover agreement, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms of speech, association and publication for 50 years.
CUHK vice chancellor Rocky Tuan said students have freedom of expression, but only if it is deemed "responsible."
"Freedom of expression is the cornerstone, is a core value of the university, and so therefore we will always allow discussion when it's done in a rational and peaceful and mutually respectful way, and also in a responsible manner," Tuan told reporters.
"In any of these topics we encourage the students to communicate with us, and we will also actively reach out to them."
Proposed ban of HKNP
But Au told local media that Tuan had warned the union in an earlier meeting that the university campus "is not a place for political wrangling."
The Hong Kong government last month hit out at the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) after it went ahead with plans to allow a pro-independence politician to speak at a lunch event in the face of widespread criticism from ruling Chinese Communist Party officials and supporters.
Chan Ho-tin, also known as Andy Chan, who heads the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), gave his lunchtime address to the club in spite of warnings and threats from Hong Kong officials, and amid calls for the government to evict the club from its premises in the downtown Central district.
Chan's political views "inappropriate and unacceptable," and constituted a "direct affront to the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the People's Republic of China," according to the Hong Kong government.
Hong Kong police have gathered more than 700 documents as "evidence" in support of a proposed ban of the HKNP, citing many public speeches and comments made by Chan.
Police say the party's aims of building a republic of Hong Kong and abolishing its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, are in violation of the law's first principle; that Hong Kong is an administrative region of the People's Republic of China.
They cite Chan's pro-independence activities, which include "infiltrating" secondary schools via his party's "political enlightenment" program, publishing articles, taking part in elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo), and various fund-raising and campaigning activities on the streets of Hong Kong.
Claiming that the HKNP has plans in place to achieve the purpose of promoting localism and separatism, police say the party poses an "imminent threat" to China’s territorial integrity and national security, because Chan had refused to rule out the use of force or civil disobedience.
The Security Bureau has extended a deadline for the party to respond to the police recommendation until Sept. 14 at Chan's request, it said on Monday.
Critics say the Hong Kong government is now criminalizing speech in the city at the behest of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, for whom talk of independence is anathema.
Under the United Nations-endorsed Johannesburg Principles governing national security and human rights law, restrictions to freedom of speech on the grounds of national security aren't legitimate if they seek to "entrench a particular ideology," rather than to stave off a violent threat of a military or internal nature.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.