HONG KONG—Chinese President Xi Jinping said Sunday that political reforms in Hong Kong must adhere to the principle of “one country, two systems,” even as a pro-democracy march in the city, demanding direct talks with Beijing’s representatives, drew up to 1,000 people.
The comments by Mr. Xi came during a meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in Beijing ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which starts on Monday. The remarks respond to six weeks of protests in Hong Kong over an August ruling by Beijing that candidates running for the territory’s top post of chief executive must be approved by a nominating committee largely loyal to the mainland.
The Chinese president said the mainland is committed to Hong Kong’s democratic development under the Basic Law, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. The Basic Law outlines Beijing’s oversight of certain Hong Kong affairs.
Mr. Xi said the Chinese government also “fully affirms and supports” the Hong Kong government’s efforts to maintain social order and safeguard the rule of law, which is a foundation for Hong Kong’s stability, according to Xinhua.
The timing of the remarks sends a “clear signal” that Beijing wants Mr. Leung to clear the protest sites as soon as the economic forum ends, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political-science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
David Zweig, director of the Center on China’s Transnational Relations at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said Mr. Xi’s comments “clearly feed into the view that this movement is a challenge to the law rather than a request for political reform.”
Beijing’s comments could deal a blow to the hopes of pro-democracy activists that Beijing will allow Hong Kong to pick its own candidates for chief executive, some academics said.
Still, Beijing’s position has been clear for some time, so the comments are likely to only have a “marginal” impact on the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, said Tim Summers, a senior consulting fellow in Asia for Chatham House, a think tank.
Mr. Leung, responding to a reporter’s question in Beijing on Sunday about how soon the government planned to clear the sites, said no details would be announced in advance.
Mr. Leung also said that the launch date of a widely anticipated stock trading link with Shanghai will be announced soon.
Traders and investors had expected the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect—a new trading platform that will allow international investors to buy stocks in Shanghai while also giving mainland investors the chance to buy stocks listed in Hong Kong—to start by the end of October.
Charles Li, chief executive of Hong Kong’s stock exchange, has said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the pro-democracy protests were a factor in the delay of the trading platform, which needs approval from mainland regulators.
Sunday afternoon, pro-democracy activists staged a two-kilometer march from Hong Kong’s city center to place a yellow ribbon, a symbol of the movement, on the office gate of Beijing’s top representative in the special administrative region.
March organizers estimate that more than 1,000 people attended, while the Hong Kong police put the number at 740 people at the march’s peak.
The march is a departure from past tactics by seeking direct talks with representatives on having free elections in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy demonstrators had threatened to follow Mr. Leung to Beijing, but the Hong Kong student group that has been leading the protests said last Thursday it had shelved plans to visit the Chinese capital during the APEC meetings and would seek to visit later.