China warned against foreign meddling in Hong Kong's politics Saturday ahead of an expected announcement to recommend highly contentious restrictions on the first direct elections for the leader of the Chinese-controlled financial hub.
An article in the ruling Communist Party's flagship newspaper People's Daily said that some in the former British colony were colluding with outside forces to interfere in Hong Kong's governance.
"Not only are they undermining Hong Kong's stability and development, but they're also attempting to turn Hong Kong into a bridgehead for subverting and infiltrating the Chinese mainland," said the article.
"This can absolutely not be permitted," it said, citing an unidentified official in the Foreign Ministry's department for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan affairs.
The article said that as a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong's affairs are entirely a Chinese internal matter. China will refute and make "solemn representations" in response to statements and actions by foreign forces and demand that they "cease meddling in Hong Kong's affairs and Chinese internal political matters by any means," it said.
The article did not identify any individuals or groups, although Britain and the U.S. have both been vocal about their hopes for genuine democratic reform in Hong Kong.
The warning appeared as China's legislature was expected to announce Sunday that an elite pro-Beijing body must vet candidates for the territory's leader starting from 2017 — setting up a showdown with pro-democracy groups who want the public to be able to nominate people freely.
Hong Kong newspapers have reported that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing will recommend that voters choose from up to three candidates named by a similar nominating body while the public gets no say.
That would resemble the current system under which a 1,200-member panel stacked with mostly pro-Beijing elites gets to pick the leader.
Democracy activists are threatening to respond with a mass sit-in paralyzing the financial district that is the symbolic heart of the city. Student leaders are also considering a walkout of university classes next month.
Since being handed back from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong has retained a high degree of legal, economic and political autonomy. But there are growing concerns among many of the territory's 7 million people that Beijing wishes to insert itself more strongly into Hong Kong's affairs, particularly in ensuring that its leadership remain beholden to the Communist Party.