China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), unsurprisingly “passed” a package of extensive “reforms” for Hong Kong elections Thursday.
The reforms are designed to ensure only “patriots” (loyal agents of the Chinese Communist Party) can run for office in Hong Kong, which was supposed to enjoy limited political autonomy after the United Kingdom handed control over to Beijing in 1997.
The “Patriots Governing Hong Kong” law passed by a vote of 2,895 to 0, with one abstention, while Chinese dictator Xi Jinping looked on approvingly. The new rules will be formalized and imposed on Hong Kong within the next few months.
The BBC noted that while not all of the details have been made public, the Chinese law will “reduce democratic representation and allow a pro-Beijing panel to vet and elect candidates.”
In short, there will still be “elections” in Hong Kong, but no one will be allowed to vote for the opposition. As the Chinese embassy in London told the BBC, China has a “different definition” of democracy.
“The central authorities have good intentions. We expect all sectors of the community and the general public to take ownership of the work to amend the law and offer suggestions, so that a strong positive energy can be gathered under the banner of patriotism and love for Hong Kong,” Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong said after the NPC vote.
Various Beijing-controlled offices in Hong Kong hailed the move, as did the island’s Beijing-controlled chief executive, Carrie Lam. Lam said the law is “designed to ensure that whoever is administering Hong Kong is patriotic, and this is only right in terms of political ethics.”
Lam said she was “delighted” with the law and would “spare no effort” to explain how it works to explain “the work of the NPC on improving the electoral system” to the Hong Kong public. She said she would also work to “enhance Hong Kong people’s understanding of national development, in particular national security.”
Beijing’s “reforms” to Hong Kong politics will reportedly increase the size of the committee that selects the chief executive, give the committee more power to fill administrative offices and control which candidates are permitted to run for the legislature, and empower the committee to select many of the legislators, removing voters from the equation entirely.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a Chinese apparatchik fumbling to explain how Hong Kong democracy will be more vibrant than ever, once everyone accepts that only loyal Communist “patriots” will be on the ballots, which will get smaller because the people will not get to vote for most of their legislators anyway:
“We are not speaking about creating a monolithic government…we understand that Hong Kong is a plural society with a blend of Chinese and Western culture,” said Song Ru’an, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s deputy commissioner in the territory, at a Tuesday briefing.
Even so, “when we talk about patriotism, we are not talking about the abstraction of loving a cultural or historical China, but rather loving the currently existing People’s Republic of China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Song said.
“I think overall this is an effective, fast, hard-line kind of reverse democratization package. The pro-democracy forces, even if they can win all the directly elected seats, they will be destined to be a permanent minority,” Hong Kong political analyst Sonny Lo pointed out to the New York Times.
“I believe that in the future those legislative councilors will be less and less representative of the Hong Kong people and they will just be some loyalists who can do nothing and who cannot represent the Hong Kong people at all,” predicted Hong Kong Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei, whom the New York Times introduced as “one of the few prominent opposition figures not in custody” at the moment.
“This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself. This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations as a leading member of the international community,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday.
Chinese state media quoted Yang Xiaoguang, charge d’affaires at the Chinese embassy in Britain, arguing the electoral revisions were “constitutional, lawful, and justified” because “in recent years, anti-China destabilizing forces and radical localists in Hong Kong have openly clamored for ‘Hong Kong independence,’” while foreign powers have “brazenly interfered in Hong Kong affairs.”
“This will ensure the governance of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with patriots as the main body, safeguard law-based and effective governance in Hong Kong, keep the implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ on the right track, and lay a solid foundation for sustained stability and prosperity in Hong Kong,” Yang insisted.