Beijing’s top diplomat in Hong Kong said on Monday that radical protesters were only in the minority and did not represent the entire younger generation in the city.
In a show of faith in the city’s youth despite the ongoing anti-government protests, Xie Feng, commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs office, said patriotism and perseverance were needed if Hong Kong hoped to weather the storm.
“The political crisis in the past six months has pushed Hong Kong into its most dangerous situation since the handover,” Xie said.
“Some young people have lost themselves by taking part in street violence and illegal activities, vandalising, setting fires and assaulting police or citizens, as well as desecrating the national flag and waving foreign ones or begging for outside intervention.
“We feel angry and disheartened at these incidents, but I still believe that the black-clad mobs are only a minority, and they do not represent the youth of Hong Kong.”
The protests, which were triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill in June and morphed into wider calls for democratic reform, have raised questions over long-term governance in Hong Kong and reconciliation with young people.
More than 6,000 people have been arrested since June over the unrest, and nearly 40 per cent of them are students.
A study by a group of scholars published this month also found about 38.8 per cent of 12,231 protesters polled in 19 marches and rallies from June to August were aged 24 or below. On average, 77.9 per cent of respondents had received tertiary education.
In a separate poll published by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, a record-high 78 per cent of 577 respondents identified as “Hongkongers”. Those who regarded themselves as “Chinese” hit a low of 21 per cent.
On Monday, Xie, who was speaking at a public event, said patriotism was a universal core value and urged the city’s youth to embrace opportunities brought on by China’s rise on the global stage.
“Look at the five continents, you will see so many countries have welcomed China as the No 1 economic engine, and are longing for the Belt and Road Initiative for the public good. Countries are supporting China in playing a more prominent role in global governance, and many are agreeable to China’s win-win approach to cooperation and building communities with a shared interest,” Xie said.
The belt and road project is the central government’s trade initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network.
“To be patriotic, one has to faithfully defend ‘one country, two systems’,” Xie added, referring to China’s governing principle over Hong Kong in which the city is granted a high degree of autonomy.
“One also has to oppose Hong Kong independence and foreign interference, and be a proud defender of national sovereignty and uphold the legacy of one country, two systems.”