China began its largest annual political meeting Thursday, an event known as the “Two Sessions” that assembles some 5,000 members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elite to work out an agenda for the coming year.
This year’s meeting is scheduled to produce a new set of draconian rules governing Hong Kong politics that will effectively eliminate political dissent and meaningful democratic choice.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) noted the omens for Hong Kong’s autonomy are grim, as the report traditionally published by the Two Sessions meeting literally erased the phrase “high degree of autonomy” from its description of the island’s political system, along with the notion of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and even the traditional phrase “one country, two systems.”
The latter omission will be of keen interest to the people of Taiwan, since “one country, two systems” is also the relationship Beijing has in mind for their island.
“The change marks the first time all three fundamental concepts underpinning the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, have not featured in the annual report. Last year, the phrases ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and ‘autonomy’ were included, while all three remained present in 2019,” the HKFP recalled.
“One country, two systems” summed up the agreement reached between the United Kingdom and China when the latter took possession of Hong Kong in 1997. China promised Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its own laws and legislature, and its people would retain freedoms guaranteed under British law but denied to Chinese citizens.
Beijing’s new idea is to replace “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” with a new rule stipulating only “patriots” — i.e. Chinese Communist Party loyalists — can participate in government. The Two Sessions report also called for more “patriotic” education for Hong Kong students, who played a prominent role in the 2019 protest movement.
NBC News said “Hong Kong’s vanishing freedom” was on the agenda as the CCP’s “rubber-stamp parliament” prepared to assert more direct control over Hong Kong politics, while seeking to preserve some of its valuable economic freedom and avoid frightening away the Westerners who do business there.
Aside from that dash of economic freedom, Anthony Kim of the Index of Economic Freedom told NBC that Hong Kong has sadly become “almost indistinguishable, in many respects, from other major Chinese commercial centers.”
The Index will therefore begin folding Hong Kong and its sister city Macau into China’s freedom ranking, which is currently floating at 107th out of 178 nations.
The UK Guardian observed that even some pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong are nervous about the changes Beijing plans to impose on their political system. One of them cautiously advised the CCP congress not to “go too far and kill the patient” when it sets about “improving” the Hong Kong system.
China’s state-run Global Times naturally took a much sunnier view of the Two Sessions gathering, reporting that “thousands of deputies and members arrived in Beijing with palpable elation,” ready to “review and discuss a number of economic and social issues including setting growth targets, budget, Hong Kong-related reforms, as well as mapping out blueprint for the country’s social and economic development for the next 5-15 years.”
“Top Chinese policymakers are also expected to review and discuss major policy initiatives in the face of growing external challenges with rising anti-China sentiment in some Western countries while making deep reflection on how to maximize the advantages of China’s governance system and socialist democracy in a turbulent environment,” the Global Times added.