BEIJING – When Beijing began the summer to resist its rule in Hong Kong, it enacted a national security law that authorized authorities to arrest a number of pro-democracy activists and send a chill over the city.
Now, less than a year later, China wants nothing less than a fundamental reshuffle of the city’s generally controversial politics.
Zhang Yesui, a senior Communist Party official, announced Thursday that China’s National Assembly plans to rewrite election rules in Hong Kong to ensure the region is run by patriots, defined by Beijing national government and Communist Party loyalists.
Mr Zhang did not disclose details of the proposal. But Lau Siu-kae, a senior Chinese leadership adviser on Hong Kong’s policy, said the new approach was likely to call for the creation of a government agency to oversee every candidate running, not just for the chief executive but for the legislature and other members. Office levels, including neighborhood representatives.
The strategy is aimed at further concentrating power in the hands of Communist Party proxies in Hong Kong and ending the political hopes of the region’s already-enduring opposition over the years.
The years following Britain’s return to Chinese rule in 1997 will also spell the end of the dream of a full and open election by millions of Hong Kong residents. The real global suffrage – the right to direct election – was a major demand of protesters during the 2019 protests, which for months surrounded the city of more than 7 million people.
Mr Zhang, a spokesman for China’s National Assembly and the National People’s Congress, said in recent years the political turmoil had led to a need to change the region’s electoral system to ensure a system of “patriots ruling Hong Kong”.
He defended Beijing’s right to bypass local authorities in Hong Kong in enacting such laws, just as the central government did in enacting the National Security Act in June. The Congress will discuss a draft plan for a change in the electoral system when it convenes for a week-long session starting Friday.
Opposition groups called for the beleagured PM to resign, but said that maintaining some independence was not the answer. On Sunday, the most-used security law ever, police accused 47 of Hong Kong’s 47 most prominent pro-democracy activists of plotting to sabotage it after holding an election primary in July.
Democrat campaigners in last September’s election hoped to gain a majority in the local legislature, then block the government’s budget, a move that could force Hong Kong leader Kerry Lam to resign. The government later postponed those elections. But city prosecutors said the activists’ strategy of trying to oust the chief executive was tantamount to interfering in government affairs, which is a crime under security law.
Opposition politicians in the democratic system have justified their tactics and argued that they are only fighting to maintain the relative autonomy of the city, known as the one country, two systems.
But Beijing’s staunch allies in the city have accused the pro-democracy camp of jeopardizing Hong Kong’s future by examining the Chinese government’s limitations and forgetting that the city is not an independent country.
“We are not another Singapore,” former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying said in a statement. “In Hong Kong, many so-called Democrats, in practice, have become separatists by pushing the envelopes of democracy too far and trying to snatch power from Beijing, for example by appointing a chief executive.”
Ronnie Tong, a pro-democracy lawmaker who now serves in the cabinet of Hong Kong’s chief executive, said he hoped Beijing would not make it impossible for opposition figures to take office.
He said, “If you put too much into it, which I don’t want to see, we will become one-party legislators.” “It will not be consistent with the spirit of one country, two systems, and so I have warned of restraint for those who wish to listen.”
However, he acknowledged that the role of Hong Kong officials is minimal. “We have to wait and see.”
Reported by Keith Bradshare from Beijing and Zy Stein Ramsay from Hong Kong. Vivian Wang Contributed to report from Hong Kong.