The UK and US strongly condemned measures taken by China to further reduce political participation and representation in Hong Kong, as the territory announced a second postponement of Legislative Council elections which were supposed to have had held last September.
The UK said the latest changes put China in violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration that Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Today, China adopted changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that are a flagrant violation of the Joint Declaration – undermining the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and breaking Beijing’s international obligations,” the minister said. Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” framework enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said the United States was “deeply concerned” about changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, adding that the government is defying the “will of the people of Hong Kong.”
The new measures, which bypassed the Hong Kong legislature and were imposed directly by Beijing, are the latest move to wipe out the city’s democratic movement after huge protests.
President Xi Jinping signed the law after it was unanimously approved by China’s main decision-making body.
‘The background check’
One of the most dramatic changes is the introduction of a committee that will scrutinize anyone hoping to enter politics in Hong Kong for their “patriotism.”
The process will include background checks by the territory’s new national security apparatus and its decisions cannot be legally challenged.
Last year, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, which critics said was an attempt to quell dissent and another part of China’s efforts to solidify its grip on the city.
@ HKDemocrats chair @lokinhei said the opposition’s room for maneuver will shrink significantly under the change and create greater challenges and problems for Hong Kong in the future. He said the change could reduce incentives for party members to run, although no decision has been made. pic.twitter.com/A1cKXoysRG
– Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) March 30, 2021
The US spokesperson, who did not want to be identified by name, said Beijing must meet its international obligations under the joint statement.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the changes would be submitted to the territory’s Legislative Council by mid-April and that she expected to see them passed by the end of May.
Elections to the Legislative Council, already postponed for a year to September 2021, with the government citing the coronavirus, would be held in December, she said.
“We are … deeply concerned about the postponement of the September LegCo elections for the second time,” added the US spokesperson.
The United States imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong and announced an end to the special economic treatment the territory had long enjoyed under US law.
‘Degrading and oppressive’
Hong Kong currently has a limited representative democracy and, when given the opportunity, often votes for pro-democracy candidates, as in the 2019 district council polls that the pro-democracy camp won in landslide.
Under the new measures, the city’s legislature will be reduced from 70 to 90 seats.
But only 20 of these seats will be elected directly, against 35 in the previous system. This reduces direct representation from half to less than a quarter of the seats.
The majority of the members – 40 – will be chosen by a reliable pro-Beijing committee. The remaining 30 will be chosen by “functional groups” – bodies representing certain industries and special interest groups that have also been historically loyal to Beijing.
The measures have been welcomed by the pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong, which will no longer face pro-democracy opposition in the legislature.
“The excessive politicization of society and the internal divide that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively alleviated,” said Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam.
Opposition figures and some analysts have taken a less optimistic view, describing the new measures as a clear step to ensure that any remaining opposition to the Beijing regime is eradicated.
“This brand new system is really degrading and very oppressive,” Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker told AFP news agency.
Lau questioned whether the people of Hong Kong would want to participate in future elections and warned that political unrest could explode again.
Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, said that with the drastic reduction in the opposition margin in the city, this will only create “greater challenges and problems” in the future.
He said the change could reduce incentives for party members to run, although no decision has been made.
Chong Ja Ian, associate professor of politics at the National University of Singapore, said the new measures “appear to go against the spirit of free, fair and competitive elections, limiting popular participation in the political process.
“Certainly, giving a police force the power to control who can stand for election is not envisaged in systems generally considered democratic in a significant sense,” he told AFP.