Senior Chinese official Zhang Dejiang has praised the efforts of outspoken pro-Beijing activist and former journalist Robert Chow Yung, who campaigns against Hong Kong independence.

“Our Hong Kong compatriots should see through the nature of Hong Kong independence and strongly resist the movement as it will bring calamity to the country and the people,” Zhang said. “Don’t underestimate the pro-independence camp just because it is a minority… we must take a strong stand in fighting them.”

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Robert Chow (left) and Zhang Dejiang (right). Photo: TVB screenshot.

‘Positive energy’

Zhang made the remarks on Tuesday as he met members of the “Silent Majority” group in Beijing. The group, led by Chow, was established in 2013 to counter the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign initiated by HKU law professor Benny Tai. Silent Majority now runs a popular Facebook page focusing on current affairs written from a pro-government and pro-Beijing angle.

Zhang said he heard about the group a long time ago despite having never met its members. He commended the group for allowing “the majority of Hong Kong people to express their opinions” and “spreading positive energy.”

“The majority of people in Hong Kong have kept silent and have little chance to speak up on matters of right and wrong,” Zhang said. “The platform created by Silent Majority allowing them to speak their minds… is very valuable.”

“In particular, this platform reflects the opinion of the majority that embraces stability, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy, and the Basic Law,” Zhang said. He added that the Chinese government is committed to protecting Hong Kong’s economic prosperity and social stability.

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Robert Chow. File Photo: Robert Chow, via Facebook.

‘Full control of the situation’

Chow said after the meeting that he was surprised by Zhang’s “deep understanding” of the situation in Hong Kong. “We were impressed by some of his insights,” he said.

Asked to give examples of Zhang’s “impressive” statements, Chow said he did not want to disclose remarks made “on a private occasion.”

“All I can say is that Zhang fully grasps the situation in Hong Kong, and he is able to take full control of it,” Chow said.

He cited Zhang as saying that Hong Kong people should defend the rule of law and be “the voice of reason.” He added: “Anyone who engages in illegal activities will be punished in accordance with the law.”

China Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming and diplomat Wang Guangya of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office also attended the meeting.

Robert Chow (centre front) standing between Zhang Xiaoming and Zhang Dejiang. Photo: TVB screenshot.
Robert Chow (centre front) standing between Zhang Xiaoming and Zhang Dejiang. Photo: TVB screenshot.

‘Political stunt’

The pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper wrote Monday that Zhang’s meeting with members of Silent Majority was likely meant to create the impression that the Chinese government supports Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. It advised readers to see the event as a political stunt, rather than the view of the Chinese Communist Party leadership’s “core,” meaning Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It added that Leung is currently only backed by figures belonging to the camp of ex-leader Jiang Zemin such as Zhang Dejiang and Zhang Xiaoming. Last week, the paper compared Leung’s re-election to a “nuclear bomb.”

The paper has been running anonymous commentaries attacking Leung and the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong – since late August. It also accused Zhang Dejiang of allowing the political syndicate of the Jiang’s camp – including the Liaison Office and the chief executive – to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs.

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Sing Pao’s front page on November 28, 2016. Photo: Sing Pao.

The paper claims that Zhang belongs to Jiang’s camp, which stands in rival to Xi’s camp. It has repeatedly said that Zhang will eventually face consequences for expanding his power and his network of cronies.

Sing Pao’s months-long attacks have led to speculation that Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp is fissured and that Xi is prepared to eradicate a powerful sector within the Communist Party.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.