The Chinese government wanted to demonstrate its determination to crack down on the Hong Kong independence movement by meeting with a group of pro-Beijing activists, analysts have suggested.

Senior Chinese official Zhang Dejiang on Tuesday met with members of the Silent Majority group in Beijing and “highly praised” their campaign efforts against independence. Zhang said the group created a platform allowing “the majority of Hong Kong people to express their opinions” and were “spreading positive energy.”

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.

Silent Majority, led by former journalist Robert Chow, was established in 2013 to counter the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign initiated by HKU law professor Benny Tai. The group now runs a popular Facebook page focusing on current affairs written from a pro-government and pro-Beijing angle.

During the meeting, Zhang urged “Hong Kong compatriots” to “strongly resist the movement as it will bring calamity to the country and the people.” He added that the Chinese government is committed to protecting Hong Kong’s economic prosperity and social stability.

‘Fight to death’

Scholar Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of Beijing’s top think tank on Hong Kong, said that Zhang’s high-profile meeting with Chow and his group was meant to demonstrate to Hong Kong people that the Beijing takes a strong stance against independence advocacy.

“It is prepared to fight to the death with independence advocates,” Lau said. He added that the Chinese government will likely have other measures to crack down on the pro-independence camp if it becomes too vocal again.

lau siu kai
Lau Siu-kai. File

Lau argued that it was a “rare opportunity” for Beijing to fight against independence advocates “side by side” with Hongkongers, as there is little support for the political goal. It is unlikely that Beijing’s move to declare war on the pro-independence camp would divide Hong Kong society, he added.

‘Possible backlash’

However, political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu argued that Beijing’s move would backfire: “If Beijing takes inappropriate measures, it will lead to a backlash not because people support independence, but because they want to resist the government’s clampdown. They may sympathise with the oppressed,” he said.

Lau believed that Zhang’s “unprecedented” meeting with a non-traditional pro-Beijing group sends a clear message that the Communist Party is concerned about the rise of Hong Kong independence.

“It reflects that Beijing considers suppressing pro-independence voices to be a priority,” he said. “Beijing is very fearful of the so-called Hong Kong independence movement. It worries that if the movement continues to grow, it will unite the pro-independence forces in Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet.”

Robert Chow Silent Majority
Robert Chow (right) with a member of the Silent Majority for Hong Kong. File Photo: HongWrong

He added that it is unlikely that the government’s acknowledgement of the work of Silent Majority would help unite the majority of Hong Kong people.

The Chinese Communist Party’s state mouthpiece the People’s Daily reported on its Wednesday’s front page Zhang’s meeting with Silent Majority. It cited Zhang as saying that the group reflects the opinion of Hong Kong’s majority and promotes patriotism.

See also: Senior Chinese official praises anti-independence campaign by ‘Silent Majority’ activist Robert Chow

However, the pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper wrote on Monday that the meeting was only 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.

The paper has for months been suggesting that Zhang belongs to the camp of ex-leader Jiang Zemin, which rivals Xi’s camp.

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