Chinese president Xi Jinping on Friday warned against any attempt to "tear out" any part of China's territory amid growing fears that the election of pro-independence lawmakers in Hong Kong has sparked a political purge of opposition voices in the city.
"It is our solemn commitment to the history and the people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to make sure that the country is never torn apart again," Xi said in a speech commemorating Sun Yat-sen, widely regarded as the father of modern China.
"Any attempt to split the country will be resolutely opposed by all Chinese people," Xi said, citing historical "struggles," in an apparent reference to the loss of Chinese territory, including the cession of Hong Kong to Britain starting in 1841.
"We will never allow anyone, any organization or political party to rip out any part of our territory at any time or in any form," Xi warned, just days after China's parliament issued a decree ruling the oaths of two pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers invalid.
While Xi, who heads the ruling Chinese Communist Party, also reiterated Beijing's opposition to formal independence for separately ruled Taiwan, his remarks came after an attempt to unseat eight pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) by means of a judicial review.
Hong Kong's High Court has been asked to bar eight pro-democracy lawmakers from LegCo after Beijing intervened in a row over protest oaths made by Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching during last month's swearing-in ceremony.
The legal challenge was launched after Beijing's top-level parliamentary body issued an interpretation of Hong Kong's miniconstitution that said oaths not solemnly and sincerely taken would result in the loss of public office.
Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung said the attempt, if successful, would be a disaster for the city, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and the continuation of its existing freedoms under the terms of the 1997 handover.
"It would be a constitutional crisis, and it is nothing short of a coup, except that it is initiated by the people in power," Cheung told government broadcaster RTHK.
"So it is a purge of the opposition voice, basically, and I think it will cause chaos and render Hong Kong into a disaster," he said.
'Very hard-line comments'
The government has already sought a judicial review to clarify the status of Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching.
But the second review, lodged by a private individual, requests that the High Court disqualify eight newly elected LegCo members on the grounds that their oaths weren't solemn and sincere.
An ongoing political row had previously focused on the status of just two pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who vowed allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" and carried banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" when making their oaths on Oct. 12.
The standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), issued an interpretation of Hong Kong's miniconstitution on Monday in response to the controversy over the pair's oaths.
"An oath taker who intentionally reads out words which do not accord with the wording of the oath prescribed by law, or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn, shall be treated as declining to take the oath," the interpretation said.
"The oath so taken is invalid and the oath taker is disqualified forthwith from assuming ... public office," it said.
But Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said Xi appeared to be sending out a broader message to the city in Friday's speech.
"When [former president] Hu Jintao gave his speech [on the same anniversary] 10 years ago, he mentioned Taiwan independence, and the need to resolutely oppose any pro-independence or separatist forces," Lui said.
"But this year that section was much longer ... I personally have reason to believe that Xi Jinping's comments here are deliberately aimed at targeting [ideas of] Hong Kong independence," he said.
"These are very hard-line comments."
Small minority of targets always grows
Social activist and League of Social Democrats member Leung Kwok-hung, or "Long Hair," who is one of the eight lawmakers targeted by the judicial review, said Xi's rhetoric was redolent of a political purge.
"No dictator ever says, we are going after everyone; they always say they are going after a small minority," Leung Kwok-hung said. "But then that small minority just keeps getting bigger."
"If Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching were the small minority, and now they are saying that the entire pan-democratic and anti-establishment camp are indirectly aiding and abetting them, then that's 30 lawmakers that are now in opposition to them," he said.
"Then they will have created a majority that opposes them [rather than a minority]."
Also being targeted by the judicial review are former student protest leader Nathan Law of the newly formed Demosisto party and Cheng Chung-tai of the group Civic Passion.
Oaths taken by Raymond Chan of the activist group People Power, land rights activist and record vote-winner Eddie Chu and Lau Siu-lai of Democracy Groundwork are also being questioned.
And LegCo members Edward Yiu and social welfare sector representative Shiu Ka-chun also potentially face disqualification are also named in the legal challenge.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.