Sat Oct 1, 2016 09:34AM
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (C) attends a flag raising ceremony on National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, October 1, 2016. (AP Photo)
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (C) attends a flag raising ceremony on National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, October 1, 2016. (AP Photo)

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says the semi-autonomous special administrative region of China should preserve its unity with Beijing amid increasing calls for independence from the mainland.

Leung made the remarks in an annual address at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on Saturday as part of National Day celebrations that mark the 67th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Hong Kong is governed under a "one country, two systems" arrangement - a deal made when the city was handed back to China after about a century of British colonial rule in 1979. The agreement protects Hong Kong's freedoms and partial autonomy for 50 years.

Leung described the deal as the "most beneficial and most practical" for Hong Kong, saying, "One country, two systems needs each and every Hong Kong resident to defend it to their utmost.”

He further encouraged young citizens of Hong Kong to visit China and underlined "deep kinship" between the two sides.

The comments come at a time that some of the lawmakers, who won seats in the city’s legislative elections last month, are calling for independence for Hong Kong through a referendum after 2047, when the city’s 50-year semi-autonomous status expires.

Several legislators boycotted Saturday’s event, among them Nathan Law, one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

The 23-year-old lawmaker explained that he stayed away in protest at what he said to be China’s rights violations.

"As long as they don't recognize that what they are doing is wrong, we shouldn't go and celebrate this kind of holiday," Law said.

Lawmaker Yau Wai-ching also boycotted the celebrations, saying, "It's not the national day of the Hong Kongers.”

Meanwhile, a small group of protesters led by opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung gathered outside the venue, where the Hong Kong leader gave a speech.

The demonstrators called for the release of political prisoners in China and carried a mock coffin and threw hell money next to it.

Anti-China protesters throw hell money during a protest on National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, October 1, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Additionally, a group of pro-democracy lawmakers interrupted Leung’s speech, shouting, "CY step down!"

Also on Saturday, several pro-Beijing supporters wearing red T-shirts took to the streets of Hong Kong waving large Chinese flags and shouting slogans such as "we are Chinese" and "oppose Hong Kong independence.”

Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese national flags on National Day celebrations in Hong Kong, October 1, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Hong Kong witnessed 79 days of street demonstrations and occupations two years ago.

The Umbrella Movement was created during the 2014 protests that erupted after the Chinese government introduced an election law, under which the people of Hong Kong will have to elect their next leader from a list of Beijing-vetted candidates in 2017.