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Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's chief executive, speaks at the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong, on Tuesday, May 18, 2016.
Justin Chin—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Facing a burgeoning separatist movement and an ever increasing backlash against his policies, Hong Kong’s leader on Thursday stressed the territory’s position as part of China by saying its citizens ought to understand its constitution — all 160 articles of it.

Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, told the state-run China Daily that the semi-autonomous territory — returned to China by Britain in 1997 after decades of colonial rule — was an “inalienable part” of the mainland and talk of its independence is “totally unacceptable.”

While Leung said that only a small portion of the city’s 7 million people support independence, he added that pro-independence discussions in schools and colleges (which the government has already cracked down on) need to be nipped in the bud. Instead, he told China Daily, the government would ensure that its citizens thoroughly understand all 160 articles of the Basic Law — the territory’s de facto mini-constitution.

“If we do not tackle this well, this [separatist idea] could spread,” he added.

His concern is not without foundation. A recent poll showed that 1 in 6 Hong Kongers supports independence, with the proportion rising to 40% in the 15-to-24 age group. The election of half a dozen young politicians to the city’s legislature this month — all of whom support varying degrees of self-determination for the Asian financial hub — indicates that Hong Kong could be headed for a future reckoning with the Chinese government.

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