China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) on Thursday approved new rules preventing anyone from standing for election in Hong Kong without the approval of a newly-expanded committee of Beijing loyalists.
The move came after ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials said only those deemed “patriots” by Beijing should be allowed to hold public office in the city.
Under the new rules, the 1,200 Election Committee that previously voted for the city’s chief executive will now also pick some members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).
Nobody will be able to stand as a candidate in any election in the city without its say-so, reducing what were already only partial exercises in democracy to cosmetic displays that can only result in a slate of candidates all equally loyal to the CCP.
“The electoral system should be conducive to safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security, and development interests and help maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” according to the text of the NPC decision as reported by state-run news agency Xinhua.
While some of the 90 seats in a newly expanded LegCo will still be returned by direct election in geographical constituencies, there will be scant room for candidates who don’t toe the party line, while 40 seats will be de facto appointments by Beijing.
“The committee shall be responsible for reviewing and confirming the qualifications of candidates for the Election Committee members, the Chief Executive, and LegCo members,” Xinhua reported.
No candidate who makes comments in any way critical of the Hong Kong government or the CCP will be allowed to run, the report said, citing the need for candidates to conform to a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020.
The rules took immediate effect on Thursday, through amendments to the annexes of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The NPC voting system registered 2,895 votes for, 0 against, and one abstention, results that are typical for the rubber-stamp body.
NPC chairman Li Zhanshu said there had been “firm determination” to pass the new rules.
“All representatives were in strong agreement [about the need] to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and maintain constitutional order in Hong Kong,” Li told the NPC.
“We will always insist that patriots rule Hong Kong.”
The ruling also postponed LegCo elections that should have been held in September 2020 but were postponed for another year, to 2022.
Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said opposition politicians were unlikely to look to representation in LegCo as a realistic option in future.
“Everyone will be questioning how effective participation in LegCo can be, now that there is no real representation for ordinary people like we had in the past,” Lo told reporters on Thursday.
“This is something that the Democratic Party has to consider.”
On the democratic island of Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said the move means that Beijing has now taken over direct political control of Hong Kong, despite its promises that the city would maintain “a high degree of autonomy” at least until 2047.
“The relevant authorities have deviated from the promise of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy,” Chiu told a news briefing. “They have harmed the right of Hong Kong people to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”
“The rest of the world finds this unacceptable.”
Former British colonial governor Lord Patten of Barnes (Chris Patten), said that under terms set out in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China had previously agreed to leave Hong Kong’s electoral system and democracy unchanged until 2047.
“China’s communist parliament has taken the biggest step so far to obliterate Hong Kong’s freedoms and aspirations for greater democracy under the rule of law,” Patten wrote in a March 5 statement on the website of the U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch.
“Breaking all its promises, not least those made by Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Communist Party has ordained that in order to be a Chinese patriot you must swear allegiance to the Communist Party,” Patten wrote.
“The Chinese Communist Party has shown the world once again that it cannot be trusted. It is a continuing and brutal danger to all who believe in free and open societies.”
Hong Kong Watch chief executive Benedict Rogers said the move sounded the “death knell” for democracy in Hong Kong.
“Under these reforms the majority of Hong Kongers face permanent political disenfranchisement, with any candidate who offers criticism of Beijing or support for Hong Kong’s autonomy and democracy effectively barred from participation,” Rogers said, adding that the majority of the city’s political opposition was already behind bars.
“In Hong Kong, popular public sentiment is being replaced with totalitarianism,” he said, calling for sanctions from the U.K. government.
Reported by Lu Xi for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.