China has warned against any foreign interference ahead of a crucial ruling on Hong Kong's political future, saying Beijing will not tolerate the use of the city "as a bridgehead to subvert and infiltrate the mainland".
China's largely rubber-stamp parliament is set to meet on Sunday, when it is expected to limit 2017 elections for Hong Kong's leader to a handful of pro-Beijing candidates, a move likely to escalate plans by pro-democracy activists to blockade the city's central business district.
An article in the ruling Communist Party's flagship newspaper the 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.
'Occupy Central' campaign
Such a strongly worded statement from the ministry signals increasing anxiety among Chinese leaders about the outcome of Sunday's decision, which will be watched closely by diplomats and international human rights groups.
The expected move to limit the number of candidates for the 2017 elections could trigger a showdown with pro-democracy demonstrators who are planning an "Occupy Central" campaign.
Student leaders are also considering a walkout of university classes next month.
Pro-democracy activists want changes in the current system under which a 1,200-member panel stacked with mostly pro-Beijing elites gets to pick the leader.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and there have been fierce debates in the past year over how its next leader is chosen - by universal suffrage, as the democrats would like, or from a list of pro-Beijing candidates.
There are growing concerns among many of the territory's seven million people that China wishes to insert itself more strongly into Hong Kong's affairs.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Macau, another Chinese Special Administrative Region, chief executive Fernando Chui is widely expected to be "re-elected" on Sunday after his pro-China government stifled an unofficial referendum on democracy in the gambling hub.