Besieged Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) arrived in Beijing yesterday to seek support from his political masters after massive anti-government protests and widespread calls for more democracy.
China's leaders were expected to offer public backing for Tung, whose government was thrown into crisis for three weeks after the biggest protests since 1989 forced the shelving of a reviled security bill and led to resignations of two top lieutenants.
But they may be seeking an explanation for how he underestimated the size of the July 1 protests, which saw half a million people hit the streets in the biggest demonstrations since the Beijing Tiananmen massacre in 1989.
Tung was due to meet President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) yesterday afternoon, and they are likely to explore ways to revive the economy of one of the world's top financial centers, which faces rising unemployment and a stagnant property sector.
He told reporters on the flight to Beijing the talks would probably not deal with successors to fill the security chief and financial secretary posts, vacated last week by deeply unpopular incumbents Regina Ip (葉劉淑儀) and Antony Leung (梁錦松), a Tung spokesman said.
Analysts say Chinese leaders would likely offer fresh public backing for Tung's government in a bid to defuse the crisis.
"What's most important now is that they galvanize the situation around Tung" to restore stability, said a Western diplomat.
"They don't scold directly, but I think there will be certainly talk about what he needs to emphasize," the diplomat said.
That view was reinforced by the pro-China Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, which quoted unidentified sources in Beijing saying the central government would continue to support Tung's government because stability was of the utmost importance.
The crisis had led to the biggest test yet of the "one country, two systems" formula under which the former British territory returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Diplomats said the protests caught Beijing off guard and left it fumbling for solutions, its options limited as it cannot be seen to be meddling in Hong Kong.
The mounting public anger has become the catalyst for the biggest pro-democracy push in Hong Kong in years, a development clearly worrying China's communist leadership, which fears the sentiment might spill over to the mainland.
"They're thrashing about," said a second Western diplomat.
China announced late on Friday that its top man in the territory, Ji Peiding, would be replaced by Yang Wenchang in a reshuffle that Chinese analysts said was routine but some noted the timing was certainly curious.
Some analysts said Tung no longer enjoys the high level of trust that Beijing offered the former shipping tycoon when they put him in charge of Hong Kong six years ago.