In an apparent effort to cut back on Hong Kong’s ability to self-govern, China moved to limit Hong Kong’s democratic process in an almost unanimous vote on Thursday. The National People’s Congress voted to approve a policy that would broaden the power of an existing election committee in order to ensure that “patriots” are elected to govern Hong Kong.
Critics of the move see it as China’s most recent attempt to push back on any dissent in the region, particularly as protests sparked in 2019 and then Hong Kong authorities postponed elections last year, blaming the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese authorities have reportedly said that the most recent attempt is simply a way to cut down on the ability for anti-China bodies to stir up disorder in Hong Kong and get rid of any legal loopholes that allow interference to take place. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at a press conference after the vote that the “purpose of the decision was clear cut.”
“It is to adhere and improve the systemic structure of one-country, two-systems and uphold the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong,” he said, adding, “Last year Hong Kong suffered multiple disruptions. We hope that peoples from all walks of life will join together to improve Hong Kong’s living standards and improve prosperity.”
The draft measure would broaden the current Hong Kong election committee from 1,200 members to 1,500. The legislature would also increase from 70 members to 90. The committee would be responsible for choosing some of the local legislative members in Hong Kong and also take part in the nomination process. The Wall Street Journal reports, “A senior Chinese official said last week the committee would directly fill a ‘relatively large share’ of the seats, but the resolution didn’t give a number.”
The current laws allow for half of the legislature to be publicly elected and “professional and special interest groups” are given the ability to choose the remaining half of legislators. While these methods will reportedly still be utilized, the measure was not specific in stating how many selections would be decided using these ways.
In recent months, further unrest has taken hold of the region as Chinese officials used national security laws in order to arrest Hong Kong activists and campaigners in January, citing their participation in primaries last summer.
The Daily Wire reported,
The Chinese national security laws that made it possible to arrest the protestors reportedly serve to “punish acts of subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with possible life imprisonment,” according to Reuters.
Reuters added: “China justified the laws to restore order following mass protests in 2019 against perceived Chinese suppression of Hong Kong’s basic liberties and autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement. This was put in place in 1997 when the city reverted from British to Chinese rule.”
Lo Kin-hei, chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, is out on bail after he was arrested last year for allegedly being involved in an unauthorized assembly in 2019. He said, “What we’ve seen over the past year is that authorities will do whatever they want, whenever they want, in a way that was unimaginable before.”
The new measure was approved in a landslide vote on Thursday with 2,895 members voting in favor, zero against, and one abstaining.
While the measure didn’t include a specific timetable, the new regulations would reportedly be put forth through amendments to the annex documents that are part of the miniconstitution. Hong Kong members of the National People’s Congress stated that the new regulations could be done as soon as April.
The move pushes for “patriots” to be the ones in charge of Hong Kong, a complex term that the People’s Republic of China seems eager to define for itself.
In a briefing this week about the resolution, Song Ru’an, deputy commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, said, “When we talk about patriotism, we are not talking about the abstraction of loving a cultural or historical China, but rather loving the currently existing People’s Republic of China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”
He added, “Patriots should respect the Chinese Communist Party.”