A top Chinese official yesterday outlined plans to ensure only “patriots” run Hong Kong as Beijing seeks to neuter any remaining democratic opposition and take a more direct role in how the territory is run.
The landmark speech by Xia Baolong (夏寶龍), director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, came just two weeks ahead of the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature as speculation grows that further measures are being planned to sew up control of Hong Kong.
“The most vital and pressing task to enforce rule by patriots is to improve the relevant systems, particularly the relevant electoral system,” Xia said, according to a speech published by his office.
“Being patriotic means loving the People’s Republic of China [PRC],” he said.
Hong Kong has never been a democracy — something that has fueled protests and resentment toward Beijing.
However, until recently, the territory had a veneer of choice that allowed a small and vocal opposition to flourish at certain local elections.
After huge pro-democracy protests swept the territory in 2019 — and opposition politicians won a landslide in district council elections — Beijing responded with a major crackdown.
At last year’s meeting, the Chinese National People’s Congress imposed a sweeping National Security Law that outlawed much dissent in Hong Kong and radically transformed its relationship with the authoritarian mainland.
Hong Kongers are therefore looking closely at what the next meeting might bring.
Xia’s comments suggest Beijing is seeking to ensure no opposition candidates are able to stand in Hong Kong’s limited elections, echoing weeks of calls in China’s state media for such a purge.
Authorities must “close loopholes” that allow “anti-China troublemakers” into politics, he said.
“Improving the relevant electoral system must be led by the central government,” he added.
Xia also laid out the criteria for what makes a “real patriot,” including love for the PRC, its constitution and the Chinese Communist Party.
He added that the judiciary must also be patriots — a potentially ominous warning for those who fear Beijing is planning to overhaul Hong Kong’s independent courts, one of the pillars of its success as a business hub.
Ahead of its 1997 handover by the UK, China agreed to let Hong Kong keep certain liberties and autonomy for 50 years in a model dubbed “one country, two systems.” Western governments and critics have accused Beijing of shredding that commitment in the past few years.
Beijing has said that it is restoring stability.
What form electoral reform might take remains to be seen. Beijing could further ramp up control of Hong Kong’s half-elected legislature to maintain an even more solid majority for its supporters in a chamber already devoid of any opposition after the courts disqualified some opposition figures because of their political views.
It could also go after district council elections — the only time Hong Kongers get to vote for every seat.
The Hong Kong Legislative Council’s pro-Beijing President Andrew Leung (梁智鴻) yesterday told reporters that Xia was “outlining the red lines for people holding high offices in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) welcomed Xia’s speech and rejected concerns that dissenting voices were being oppressed.
“If we must use the word ‘oppress,’ it’s oppressing those who advocate Hong Kong independence, who attempted to push Hong Kong into the abyss of violence and those who forget their ancestry, do not recognize themselves as Chinese, who collude with foreign political organizations to destroy Hong Kong,” she told reporters.
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