Hong Kong on Wednesday sought to defuse criticism of a security clampdown during Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang's recent visit that was heavily criticised as excessive and a violation of Hong Kong's civil rights.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong's number two official, Chief Secretary Henry Tang, dismissed as complete rubbish claims by journalists that civil rights had been violated during an August visit by Li, widely tipped to succeed Wen Jiabao as Chinese premier.

Tang's remarks sparked outrage in the Hong Kong media amid accusations that local police had obstructed photographers and reporters and dragged off protesters in what were slammed as China-style police bullying tactics.

It was Li's first official visit to the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong enjoys broad media freedoms and is free to carry critical coverage of China's leaders, a marked contrast from the highly censored and suppressed media in mainland China.

Following the public outcry, Tang stressed that he hadn't meant to cause offence.

We fully respect press freedom and Hong Kong people's civil rights are protected by the Basic Law and government has the duty to uphold these rights, he said after a fence-mending meeting with several local media groups.

With hindsight if my choice of words has caused any misunderstanding, it was absolutely not my intention.

He pledged to review media and security arrangements for such visits in future but stopped short of an apology.

Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule with guarantees of a high degree of autonomy and civil freedoms in the mini-constitution known as the Basic Law, has faced criticism for bowing to pressure from Beijing on numerous fronts, including barring Chinese dissidents from visiting and of stalling the pace of democratic reforms.