Hong Kong under tight security for Chinese official visit

Zhang Dejiang (centre right) receiving flowers from children upon his arrival at Hong Kong's international airport. 
Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Zhang Dejiang (centre right) receiving flowers from children upon his arrival at Hong Kong's international airport. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Hong Kong authorities have rolled out a massive security operation as they brace for protests during a top Beijing official’s visit to the semi-autonomous city, where tensions are rising over Chinese rule.

Thousands of police officers were deployed as Zhang Dejiang, China’s third-highest-ranking Communist Party official, began his three-day “inspection visit” to the former British colony yesterday.

Zhang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, is the most senior Chinese official to visit Hong Kong since then-President Hu Jintao came in 2012.

The increased security reflects official unease about possible disruptions as Hong Kong’s political atmosphere grows increasingly turbulent.

Discontent over Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong has risen since pro-democracy street protests rocked the Asian financial hub in late 2014, and calls for independence from radical political groups have become common.

After arriving at the airport, Zhang, who’s also the Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, touched on the city’s fraying ties with the mainland, saying he would listen to “suggestions and requests from various sectors of society on the development of the country and Hong Kong”.

Zhang is scheduled to deliver a speech at a business conference this morning. He’s also expected to hold a rare meeting with four pro-democracy lawmakers, who said they would urge him to get rid of the city’s unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, and revive political reform efforts.

Around 6,000 police officers are on duty for Zhang’s visit, the South China Morning Post reported. Officers were even dispatched to the summit of Lion Rock, one of Hong Kong’s tallest peaks, but they failed to prevent activists from unfurling a pro-democracy banner lower down the mountainside.

Police set up hundreds of plastic water-filled safety barriers on the streets surrounding the convention centre where Zhang is to speak and the hotel next door where he’s staying.

Police in the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen arrested a Hong Kong man involved in a plot to use a drone to disrupt Zhang’s visit, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.