China brings in new rules ensuring only ‘patriots’ loyal to Beijing can govern Hong Kong as it crushes democracy and dissent
- Beijing has increasingly tightened grip on HK since national security law in June
- Communists claimed latest overhaul gets rid of ‘loopholes and deficiencies’
- Slashed number of directly elected parliamentarians and cut size of the house
- Bolstered number of loyalists on committee which selects leader of Hong Kong
Beijing slashed the number of seats in parliament by a quarter while bolstering the size of a loyalist committee which selects Hong Kong’s leader.
The Communist Party has increasingly tightened its grip over the former British colony since it moved to crush dissent with its national security law in June.
Officials claimed the latest shake-up is aimed at getting rid of ‘loopholes and deficiencies’ that put the country at risk during anti-government unrest in 2019 and that it was important that only ‘patriots’ ruled the city.
Pro-democracy protesters march on a street during a protest in Hong Kong on December 8, 2019. Beijing imposed a new national security law in June to eradicate the pro-democracy movement
President Xi Jinping presides over a military meeting in Fujian on March 24
The Communist Party slashed the number of directly elected parliamentarians from 35 to 20 and reduced the size of the legislature by 20 seats to 70.
Meanwhile an ‘election committee’ in charge of selecting the chief executive in the city was increased from 1,200 to 1,500 members.
The measures are part of Beijing’s efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip over its freest city following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a tool to crush dissent.
The representation of 117 community-level district councillors in the election committee would also be scrapped and the six district council seats in the Legislative Council will also go.
District councils are the city’s only fully democratic institution, and almost 90% of the 452 district seats are controlled by the democratic camp after a 2019 vote. They mostly deal with grassroots issues such as public transport links and garbage collection.
The electoral restructuring was endorsed unopposed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, at the apex of China’s legislature.
As part of the shake-up, a powerful new vetting committee will monitor candidates for public office and work with national security authorities to ensure they are loyal to Beijing.
Chinese authorities have said the shake-up is aimed at getting rid of ‘loopholes and deficiencies’ that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and to ensure only ‘patriots’ run the city.
The measures are the most significant overhaul of Hong Kong’s political structure since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and alter the size and composition of the legislature and electoral committee in favour of pro-Beijing figures.
Beijing had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also guarantees the city wide-ranging autonomy not seen in mainland China, including freedom of speech.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam wearing a face mask speaks during a news conference on March 23, 2021 in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to questions during a question and answer session at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong
Critics say the changes move Hong Kong in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has ever had since the handover, if any at all.
Since the security law was imposed, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it, or arrested for other reasons.
Some elected legislators have been disqualified, with authorities calling their oaths insincere, while scores of democracy activists have been driven into exile.
In February, Xia Baolong, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, said patriots would also resolutely oppose foreign interference in Hong Kong.
Those who violate the national security law, or challenge the leadership of the ruling Communist Party, are not patriots, he said.