Alarmed by the recent upsurge in anti-mainland sentiment in Hong Kong, with the more extreme residents openly denying their Chinese identity, Beijing has responded by adjusting some of its policies towards the special administrative region (SAR).
This change of tack can be discerned in President Hu Jintao's report to the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) earlier this month, in which he made three unprecedented remarks on Hong Kong.
For the first time, China's sovereignty, security and development interests have become the key premises of its policy towards the SAR.
Hu said: "The underlying goal of the principles and policies adopted by the central government concerning Hong Kong and Macau is to uphold China's sovereignty, security and development interests and maintain long-term prosperity and stability of the two regions."
In the past, China did not see Hong Kong as a threat to its sovereignty and security. Thus, whenever it stated its policy on the SAR, it merely highlighted the principles of "one country, two systems", Hong Kongers governing themselves, the SAR having a high degree of autonomy, and the preservation of its prosperity and stability.
Now, with the rise of anti- mainland sentiment, some people are calling for an independent Hong Kong. Since Beijing views separatism as a threat to its sovereignty and security, it has decided that these national interests should come before the SAR's autonomy.
For the first time, the same lexicon that Hu used to persuade self-ruling Taiwan to drop its separatist attempts was used in the Hong Kong context.
"We are convinced that our compatriots in Hong Kong... (will) share with other people of all ethnic groups in China the dignity and glory of being Chinese," said Hu in his report.
He first used the phrase "to share the dignity and glory of being Chinese" in a speech on Dec 31, 2008, exhorting the Taiwanese not to break away. He had said then: "(We are sure) that the Taiwanese would join hands with their mainland compatriots to share the dignity and glory of a great country, and to feel the pride and privilege of being a rightful Chinese."
By applying the anti-separatist lexicon to the Hong Kong context, Beijing showed that it is indeed worried about the spread of the anti-mainland sentiment.
Beijing is also hardening its attitude against foreign forces seen to be interfering in the affairs of the two SARs (the other being Macau). In his report to the 17th Congress in 2007, Hu had said merely that China "strongly opposes" foreign forces meddling in the SARs' affairs.
This year, he said Beijing will be "guarding against and forestalling external intervention" in the affairs of the SARs. The previous phrasing "strongly opposes" has been strengthened into "guarding against" and "forestalling".
Last but not least, Beijing for the first time dropped reference to the Basic Laws of the SARs in an important party document.
The Basic Laws are mini-constitutions granting the SARs a high degree of autonomy. In all previous party and government documents, reference to the Basic Laws was made.
For example, the 2007 communique endorsing Hu's report stressed that "(we shall) strictly abide by the Basic Laws".
However, this year's communique reads: "The congress highlighted the need to fully and faithfully implement the principle of "one country, two systems", under which the people of Hong Kong govern Hong Kong and the people of Macau govern Macau and both regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy."
It remains to be seen whether these lexical changes herald a major change in Beijing's policy on Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, for the first time, appeared at the party congress as a separate entity, sending 16 local CCP delegates to it.
In the past, its delegates had attended under either the Guangdong Provincial Delegation or the Delegation of the Centrally- administered Organisations.
Appearing as a separate entity could mean one of two things: that numerically the local CCP has reached a certain size that it warrants a separate identity, or that Beijing has decided to give a more open role to Hong Kong's CCP members.
To this day, the local CCP in the SAR continues to operate clandestinely.
In 2010, Cao Erbao, Beijing's propaganda chief in the SAR, had openly advocated the creation of a second governing team, made up of central and local CCP members, to supplement the first, which is the official SAR government.
Giving a separate entity to Hong Kong's CCP delegates to the 18th Party Congress might be a first move towards that end.
All these unprecedented words and deeds suggest that to combat the growth of anti-mainland sentiment, Beijing will be increasingly involved in the running of Hong Kong.
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