During the 2021 convocation of China’s National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Beijing announced plans to impose sweeping electoral reforms on Hong Kong that threaten any remaining semblance of political autonomy. China’s central government has steadily eroded political freedoms in the city, particularly since the passage of the National Security Law in 2020: calling for “patriotic” politicians, requiring loyalty oaths from elected officials, introducing “national security” to the education system, and imprisoning independent media figures. More recently, 47 Hong Kong democracy movement members were charged with violating the National Security Law by participating in an informal primary election in July 2020. The moves at this year’s Two Sessions seem squarely aimed at the remnants of Hong Kong’s autonomous political tradition. At Reuters, James Pomfret covered the specific actions Beijing has taken to limit the representative nature of Hong Kong’s political bodies:
The structural changes will include increasing the city’s legislative seats from 70 to 90, with some of these to now be decided by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists. Seats likely to be controlled by the democrats will either be scrapped or reduced.
A 1,200-person committee that picks Hong Kong’s leader will be expanded – further “improving” a system controlled by Chinese “patriots”, according to Wang Chen, a vice chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress.
Wang told reporters the moves, that would involve re-drafting parts of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, would consolidate China’s “overall jurisdiction” over the city and fix “deep-seated problems” once and for all. [Source]
Bloomberg news covered further changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system:
The report said the Legislative Council election, now scheduled for September following a yearlong delay due to the coronavirus, could be pushed back again to September 2022 to facilitate the changes to the voting system.
The changes would also eliminate five citywide “superseats” on the Legislative Council, which were the only ones that could be voted on by all 7.5 million people, local broadcaster Now TV reported. Moreover, China would raise the nominations needed to stand for chief executive and include a committee to screen candidates standing for all levels of government, from District Councils to the Legislative Council to the Election Committee. [Source]
“The development in recent years show that the electoral system needs to be improved to keep abreast with the times and……
— Ezra Cheung (@ezracheungtoto) March 4, 2021
No more emphasis on “Hong Kong People ruling Hong Kong” nor “high degree of autonomy”.
But only “patriots administering Hong Kong”, another new concept Beijing has imposed on the former British colony following the national security law.
— Ezra Cheung (@ezracheungtoto) March 4, 2021
Essentially HK’s LegCo will become a mainland-style provincial “people’s congress”, no longer a genuine independent legislature. Also marks the death of 3-way separation of powers in HK, effectively fusing the legislative & executive branches. Only the judiciary left to go… https://t.co/Q1VC9Z0Dk7
— Antony Dapiran (@antd) March 5, 2021
This is pretty stunning even to me https://t.co/KvWXk4FdgP
— Victor Shih (@vshih2) March 5, 2021
Also at Bloomberg, Iain Marlow and Kari Soo Lindberg covered reactions from Hong Kong democracy activists, Chinese lawmakers, and academics:
“The Chinese authorities have reached the limit of their patience, and they’ll no longer accept an effective pro-democracy movement,” said Joseph Cheng, a democracy activist and former political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong who relocated to Australia last year. “They’ll no longer accept any serious checks and balances.”
[…] Senior Chinese lawmaker Wang Chen told NPC deputies Friday that the election changes were necessary to prevent “anti-China forces” from “seizing the Legislative Council and seizing the jurisdiction over Hong Kong.” Lam, who was appointed by China, pledged in a statement to carry out the overhaul to make sure the government’s critics don’t “harm Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
[…] “In the past two or three decades, we’ve had opposition politics,” [Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer on Hong Kong politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong,] said. “But in the future we may not have these kind of politics, because democrats may be excluded from parties and even the legislature.” [Source]
At The New York Times, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, and Vivian Wang shared the views of Regina Ip, a notoriously pro-Beijing politician, and Willy Lam, a famed scholar of Hong Kong politics:
“Mass participation has been strengthened, but the outcomes have been unsatisfactory,” Mrs. Ip said. “The wrong people have been elected.”
Mrs. Ip denied that the opposition’s growing share in elected office represented the people’s will. Instead, she said, extremists had poisoned Hong Kong society, swaying voters toward the wrong camp. “Some young people have been brainwashed,” she said.
[…] “This is a very ominous development for Hong Kong, because in the Basic Law there was a clear-cut pledge that Hong Kong would incrementally proceed toward democracy,” [Willy Lam, a professor of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong,] said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution. “Now this is rolling back the clock.” [Source]
What does this mean in reality?
Well here is an early take by Chinese politics expert Willy Lam, speaking to @AFP pic.twitter.com/2J2qXtf22K
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) March 5, 2021
Just had a Hong Kong academic knock back an interview request about the Two Sessions.
This is becoming increasingly commonplace in Hong Kong.
Much like in mainland China, there are growing fears within academia about speaking to foreign media.
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) March 5, 2021
The proposed laws in Beijing seem designed to block the “35-plus” plan for pro-democracy candidates to win a majority in the 70-seat legislative council. At The South China Morning Post, Tony Cheung described in detail how the the Two Sessions proposals would make any “35-plus” strategy impossible, leaving the Legco safely in Beijing’s hands:
Analysts said the changes Wang outlined would neuter Hong Kong’s opposition camp in its current form, as it would pack the Election Committee and Legco with ultra Beijing loyalists. The pan-democrats would lose all ability to be a powerful force in Legco or strategise to get enough votes to be kingmakers in the selection of the chief executive, they said.
[…] The same sources had earlier indicated the new composition of Legco could comprise a 30-30-30 share of seats among the geographical constituencies, which are votes based on residential areas, functional constituencies which are sector-based votes, and the new Election Committee members.
Wang’s reference that the Election Committee would have a “relatively large share of Legco members” had others suggesting that up to 40 seats could go to the group, giving them hefty powers to thwart any opposition.
Their presence in Legco would virtually guarantee that the opposition camp could never aspire to have the power to block bills or plot a “35-plus” strategy to win more than half the seats, as they tried to attempt last year. [Source]
There are conflicting reports on distribution of seats in Legco under the proposal. What I've heard is similar to HK01, where seats directly elected will drop from 35 to 20, and 40 seats will go to Beijing loyalist from the selection committee, 30 are FC. TVB said it's 30-30-30.
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) March 5, 2021
Eminent legal scholar Jerome A. Cohen released a brief letter detailing his opinions on the Xi regime’s newest laws:
This is not only a huge defeat for the people of HK but also a huge embarrassment to Xi Jinping and the CCP before the world. It is also implicit disrespect for one of Deng Xiaoping’s landmark achievements, which is consistent with other efforts by the Xi regime to downgrade Deng’s status.
Moreover, the Xi regime will not stop at transformation of the electoral system. It will next accelerate the efforts it has been making to rein in the courts and the legal profession. All branches of government must be brought to heel in a totalitarian system. And these “reforms”, of course, are only part of the broader effort to transform Hong Kong society through reshaping education from kindergarten through university, from dominating the media and via other means. [Source]
At NPR, Emily Feng covered rhetoric from Hong Kong and Chinese politicians that attempted to frame Hong Kong’s peaceful democracy protestors as “separatists”:
Leung Chun-ying, who was chief executive until 2017, said in a two-part video speech that many of the region’s political opposition were “separatists” who opposed Beijing’s rule: “In Hong Kong the extra autonomous power that we enjoy actually comes from Beijing.” Leung is currently a delegate in China’s legislature.
[…] “Some of the chaos in Hong Kong shows that there exist obvious loopholes and deficiencies in the current electoral system and mechanisms which provided opportunities for anti-China and anti-Hong Kong forces to take over management in Hong Kong,” Wang Chen, vice chairman of China’s legislative elite standing committee, said in a speech Friday.
[…] “Beijing is no longer prepared to tolerate an election that it cannot rig,” said Alvin Cheung, a legal scholar at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute [Source]
Former UK PM Margaret Hilda Thatcher fall down in Beijing in China in 1982. pic.twitter.com/7mB6yxKQ72
— Langley2😷 (@Langley02_) March 5, 2021