- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2021

Members of the overwhelmingly pro-Beijing Hong Kong Legislative Council on Thursday approved sweeping electoral measures giving the city’s security department new powers to vet candidates for public office and established a new panel to ensure that those who run are sufficiently “patriotic.”

Lawmakers also gave final approval to a major expansion of the size of the legislature, with dozens of new seats to be filled by a largely pro-Beijing election committee. The number of legislators directly elected by Hong Kong residents in the new 90-seat legislative body has been cut by more than a third, from 35 to 20.

The State Department on Thursday issued a strongly worded condemnation of the new law, one that the Biden administration warned will further curtail democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Thursday’s vote was hardly a surprise, but it could prove a major milestone in the collapse of even a partial democracy in Hong Kong. Top leaders of the pro-democracy movement have been forced out of jobs, driven into exile and even imprisoned. Now even the formal machinery of the once-vibrant city’s government has been re-engineered to reflect the central Communist government’s wishes.

Analysts said it marked the biggest overhaul of the city’s unique election system since China gained formal control of Hong Kong from the British in the mid-1990s.



Beijing has given up its indirect way of ruling Hong Kong and is now more explicit and direct in controlling it,” Dongshu Liu, an assistant professor of Chinese politics at City University of Hong Kong, told the BBC News service.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a statement released by the department, denounced the measure as a fresh assault on democracy in the onetime British colony and a betrayal of the promises China’s Communist leaders made when they reclaimed control.

“The Chinese government continues to undermine the democratic institutions of Hong Kong, denying Hong Kong residents the rights that the People’s Republic of China itself has guaranteed,” Mr. Blinken said. The packing of the legislature “severely constrains people in Hong Kong from meaningfully participating in their own governance and having their voices heard.”

The Legislative Council was already heavily tilted toward the central government after pro-democracy members resigned in a bloc last year to protest the ousting of four members targeted as hostile by Beijing.

“Decreasing Hong Kong residents’ electoral representation will not foster long-term political and social stability for Hong Kong,” Mr. Blinken warned. “ … We once again call on the [Chinese government] and the Hong Kong authorities to allow the voices of all Hong Kongers to be heard.”

Lo Kin-hei, the chairman of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party, told The Associated Press that pro-democracy forces were “unhappy” with the decision to pass the bill.

“We are disappointed with the way that the government is changing the electoral system, because we can see that the representation of the people from Hong Kong in the Legislative Council or in the institution as a whole is much less than before, so this is not something which is good for Hong Kong,” said Mr. Lo.

But Peter Shiu, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, told the Reuters news service: “These 600-or-so pages of the legislation come down to just a few words: Patriots ruling Hong Kong.”

Self-censoring

The shrinking space for open debate and criticism of the city’s Beijing-picked leadership will get even smaller, predicted Lee Jonghyuk, an assistant professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University: “People will self-censor themselves, and this is intentional,” he told the BBC.

In another move showing Beijing’s determination to rein in dissent in the city, organizers said Thursday that Hong Kong authorities are again banning a planned June 4 candlelight vigil meant to mark the violent suppression of democratic protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organizes the candlelight vigil annually, said in a statement that security forces have refused to approve the event for the second straight year, citing what they said were health and social distancing concerns related to COVID-19.

For years, Hong Kong and Macao were the only cities in China where people were allowed publicly to mark the 1989 massacre.

Pro-Chinese officials in Hong Kong said the moves were needed because blanket opposition from pro-democracy parties was making it hard to pass even the most basic of laws.

“Everything is about politics, and everything is about elections,” Priscilla Leung, a pro-establishment member of the Legislative Council, said in the debate on the laws this week. “To ensure that power will not be given to the mutual destruction camp to create chaos in Hong Kong, the central authorities had to intervene.”

A botched effort to impose a new extradition law on Hong Kong sparked a major pro-democracy uprising in the city in 2019, which in turn led to a major show of force by the central government to rein in its critics in the city. China’s national legislature last year approved a new national security law governing Hong Kong, accusing the U.S. and other outside players of spurring on the pro-democracy forces.

The nationalist news website Global Times, which has close links to China’s leadership, described that the new Hong Kong proposals as “accelerating the process of ushering in a proper system of governance, which ensures only patriots running for public office, and shields the city from rioting, citywide rampages, endless filibustering tactics from the radical opposition and the risk of ‘color’ revolutions.”

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam, told the Global Times the electoral changes were designed to ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong” under the “one country, two systems” principle.

Elections for the election committee are set for Sept. 19, and for the legislature three months later. The committee will choose Ms. Lam’s successor in March 2022.

⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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