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A leading mainland expert on Hong Kong affairs has warned that clashes more fierce than last week’s Mong Kok riot could erupt in the city this year if the desire for

some people to resort to violence was not halted.

Qi Pengfei, director of the Renmin University’s research centre on Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, told the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong may face a tumultuous year as the city would witness major events.

Qi, who is also vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the Legislative Council’s New Territories East by-election would be held on February 28 while the full Legco election was scheduled for September.

“The risk of radical protests and upheavals are quite high during these events,” Qi said.

READ MORE: Let’s look to history for clues in understanding the social mood behind Mong Kok riots

On Sunday, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, described Mong Kok rioters as “radical separatists”, putting them in a similar category with separatists in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

The comments by Zhang, the central government’s liaison office director, were similar to the language used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

But Qi said there was no need for Hong Kong people to worry that the central government would tighten its policies towards the city in the wake of the Foreign Ministry’s statement.

Qi said there was no direct relationship between enacting national security legislation and the mayhem in Mong Kok because the disturbance upset only the internal security in the city.

READ MORE: Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong brands Mong Kok rioters ‘radical separatists inclined to terrorism’

Qi added that he did not believe the separatist forces in Hong Kong would develop on a large scale such as those calling for independence in Tibet and the Xinjiang region.

While stressing that the violent acts during the riot must be condemned unequivocally, Qi acknowledged there was a deeper malaise among the Hong Kong people towards the government, seen by the substantial number of young people that joined the Occupy protests last year as well as the protests against parallel trading and the riot in Mong Kok.

“It may be related to the growing social conflicts and the Hong Kong government’s inadequacies in addressing these problems,” Qi said.

“The Hong Kong government has not paid enough attention to these problems nor come up with effective ways to resolve them.”

READ MORE: Advocating violent confrontation in Hong Kong will only force Beijing to take a harder line

Qi said there was an urgent need for the Hong Kong government to reflect on its policies in tackling social problems and youth development.

Meanwhile, Lau Siu-kai, a colleague of Qi and a former head of the Central Policy Unit, said the indirect effect of Beijing branding the instigators of the riot “separatists” was to warn pan-democrats against moving towards the direction of localists.

“Beijing is unhappy with pan-democrats justifying the disturbance and shifting the blame on the Hong Kong government,” Lau said.

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