China All but Ends Hong Kong Democracy With ‘Patriots Only’ Rule

Hong Kong-China put an end to decades of hostile politics in Hong Kong when the national legislature passed changes to the electoral system that would have put pro-Beijing loyalists at the head of the city and ousted opposition groups from elected office.

The near-unanimous vote by the National People’s Congress on Thursday paves the way for a reorganization of China’s highest legislative body as early as next month, when the former British colony elects its leader and lawmakers. This would give Beijing much greater control over local elections, which are supposed to be partially democratic, by effectively vetoing candidates deemed unpatriotic.

Chinese officials say the changes are intended to close loopholes that allowed anti-Chinese forces to thwart the administration and stoke unrest in Hong Kong, which was rocked by massive anti-government protests in 2019.

The decision is clear, Prime Minister.

Li Keqiang

told reporters after the vote. He said the aim was to respect the principle of patriots leading Hong Kong and to improve Beijing’s one-country-two-cities system.

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Opposition groups in Hong Kong say the changes are part of a broad attempt by Beijing to quell local dissent and erode many of the rights and freedoms promised to residents for half a century after Britain ceded the territory to China in 1997.

This is the biggest setback for the system since the transfer of power, said Lo Kin Hei, chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, who will be released on bail at the end of 2019 after being arrested last year for allegedly attending an unauthorised meeting. What we have seen in the last year is that the authorities are doing what they want, when they want, in a way that was previously unthinkable.

The resolution provides for the establishment of a committee in Hong Kong to ensure that future officials meet the criteria set out in the city’s mini-constitution and national security legislation.

The decision is very clear, Premier Li Keqiang told reporters from a distance after the vote.

Photo:

Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

The resolution calls for the Hong Kong Election Commission, originally tasked with choosing the city’s chief executive, to be expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 seats, excluding the remaining district councils – an electoral bloc dominated by pro-democracy politicians.

Most importantly, the commission will have the power to select portions of the local legislature, increasing the number of seats from 70 to 90, and to participate in the appointment process. A senior Chinese official said last week that the commission would directly take a relatively large share of the seats, but the resolution does not mention a figure.

The commission used to be responsible for filling a small proportion of parliamentary seats, but that ended after the 2000 general election.

Under current rules, half of the members of the legislature are directly elected by the public and the other half are elected by professional groups and interest groups.

The resolution does not provide details of the proposed capital improvements or a timetable. The new rules are adopted through amendments to so-called supplementary documents which complement the mini-constitution. Members of Hong Kong’s National People’s Congress say the new rules could be changed as early as April.

Electoral reform should ensure that dissidents cannot be elected to the Legislative Council.

Steve Vocal,

Director of the SOAS China Institute in London, specializing in Hong Kong politics. This is important because it reverses the direction of Hong Kong’s political development that the British had determined before the end of the colonial period.

The National People’s Congress ended its week of meetings on Friday.

Photo:

Roman pilipei/pool/spatternstock

The Hong Kong government has postponed the general elections scheduled for September by at least a year because of the pandemic. The city will elect a city manager next year. Current employee,

Carrie Lam,

who is little known to the public, has not said whether she will run for a second five-year term.

Beijing is trying to crack down on dissidents in Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests caused chaos in the city in 2019. China’s top legislature introduced a national security law in June, and authorities have since arrested more than 100 pro-democracy figures, including the leaders of many opposition groups. The authorities have also expelled pro-democracy politicians from the Hong Kong legislature.

Chinese officials said they were not trying to limit criticism of the government.

The point is not to create a monolithic government: ….. We understand that Hong Kong is a pluralistic society with a mix of Chinese and Western cultures, Song Ruan, deputy commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry for the territory, said at a briefing on Tuesday.

When we talk about patriotism, however, we do not mean an abstract love for cultural or historical China, but love for the People’s Republic of China of today under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, Song said.

The vote on the resolution, held on the last day of the week-long session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, passed with 2,895 votes in favor, no votes against and one member abstaining.

Email Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com and Natasha Han at natasha.khan@wsj.com.

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