Hong Kong: Top Chinese leader underlines 'one country, two systems' principle

Hong Kong authorities take unprecedented security precautions ahead of Zhang's visit.

The third highest ranking official in China's ruling hierarchy started a crucial visit to Hong Kong on Tuesday underscoring the 'one country, two systems' principle but at the same time offering to 'listen' to the people.

Zhang Dejiang, the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said in early comments at the airport that he will "listen to all sectors of society" about the future of the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Zhang is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Hong Kong after the violent pro-democracy protests in 2014 that exposed the deep divisions within the Hong Kong society over China's control.

Hong Kong authorities took unprecedented security precautions ahead of Zhang's visit in the backdrop of the resurfacing of anti-China protests in the city in February this year.

Pavement bricks were being glued down to prevent a flare-up in violence during protest marches and police took hold of a mountain where anti-Beijing movement leaders put up a giant banner two years ago, Reuters reported, citing local media.

However, the protesters erected a banner demanding "true universal suffrage" on another mountain even as Zhang touched down in the city.

"(We) are facing a very great threat from China: Our culture, our language, our people...we are dying!" Chan Ho-tin, the head of the newly-formed National party, told Reuters.

"Do (Hong Kong people) want to be a Chinese city or do they want to be an independent country? There are only two choices," Chan added. His party is expected to participate in the legislative elections in September.

However, Zhang started his visit with saying he is in the city to explore the society's suggestions on its future.

"(I will listen to) all sectors of society's suggestions and demands on how ... the country and Hong Kong should develop," Zhang told reporters at the airport, Reuters reported.

When the British handed back Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997 Beijing had promised to hold direct elections under universal suffrage in the city by 2017.

However, in 2014, China said it will continue to have a system under which the chief executive is elected from a list of two or three candidates finalized by a pro-Beijing nominating committee.

This triggered the democracy campaign in which thousands of protesters 'occupied' the streets for weeks on end.

"We have not forgotten about genuine universal suffrage," Raphael Wong Ho-ming, Vice-chairman of the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats, said, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

"... We need to tell the Chinese Communist Party and ourselves again and again, that we want genuine universal suffrage," Wong added.