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Only Patriots: Beijing Plans Hong Kong Election Review

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The Communist Party of Beijing Chinas already has an old influence on Hong Kong’s political landscape. Its allies have long controlled a committee that elects the leader of the territories. Its loyalists dominate the Hong Kong legislature. She ousted four of the opposition-elected lawmakers last year.

Now, China plans to impose restrictions on Hong Kong’s electoral system to root out candidates it deems unfaithful to the Communist Party, a move that could block democracy advocates in the city from running for any elected office.

The planned review reinforces the Communist Parties’ determination to break the remaining traces of political dissent following the anti-government protests that rocked the territory in 2019. It is also based on a national security law for the city that Beijing passed last summer, giving authorities powers large to target dissent.

Collectively, those efforts are transforming Hong Kong’s free movement, often disorderly partial democracy, into a political system that closely resembles China’s authoritarian system, which requires almost total obedience.

In our country where socialist democracy is practiced, political dissent is allowed, but there is a red line here, Xia Baolong, China’s director for Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said Monday in a strongly worded speech outlining Beijing’s intentions. It should not be allowed to damage the basic system of the country, namely to damage the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

The central government wants Hong Kong to be run by patriots, Mr Xia said, and will not allow the Hong Kong government to rewrite the laws of the territories as previously expected, but will do so itself.

Mr Xia did not elaborate, but Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam confirmed the plan’s widespread crackdown, saying on Tuesday that many years of ongoing protests over Hong Kong’s political future had forced the national government to act.

When Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the territory was promised a high degree of autonomy in addition to maintaining its capitalist economic system and rule of law.

But in the decades since then, many of the city’s 7.5 million people have become wary of Beijing’s violation of their freedoms and the unfulfilled promises of universal suffrage. The Communist Party, for its part, has been alarmed by increasingly open resistance to its rule in the city and has blamed what it calls hostile foreign forces keen to undermine its sovereignty.

These tensions escalated in 2019 when masses of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in protest for months, demanding in part universal suffrage. They also gave a stern rebuke to Beijing, giving pro-democracy candidates a stunning victory in the local district elections that had long been dominated by the institution.

The latest planned review seeks to prevent such electoral unrest and, more importantly, would also give Beijing a closer look at the 1,200-member committee that will decide early next year who it will be. chief executive of towns for the next five years.

Various groups in Hong Kong society bankers, lawyers, accountants and others will vote this year to elect their representatives to the commission. The urgency of the Communist Party movement suggests a concern that the sense of pro-democracy in Hong Kong is so strong that the party could lose control of the committee if it does not disqualify pro-democracy advocates from service.

Lau Siu-kai, a senior adviser to the Chinese leadership on Hong Kong politics, said the national legislature led by the Communist Party of China was expected to push ahead with electoral regulation when it convenes in Beijing for its annual session starting at 5 p.m. March.

Mr Lau, a former senior Hong Kong official, said the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress, would certainly move to set up a high-level group of government officials with the legal authority to investigate any public office candidate and to determine whether each candidate is truly loyal to Beijing.

The plan would cover candidates for nearly 2,000 elected positions in Hong Kong, including the committee that elects the chief executive, the legislature and district councils, he said.

The new election law now being drafted will not be retroactive, Mr Lau said, and the current district councilors will hold their seats as long as they abide by the law and swear allegiance to Hong Kong and China.

Beijing officials and state-run news media have issued a drum call over the past month for Hong Kong to be run exclusively by people who are patriots. For Beijing, the term has been narrowly defined as loyalty to mainland China and especially to the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, raised the issue in late January with Ms. Lam, telling her that the Patriots ruled Hong Kong was the only way to ensure the long-term stability of the cities. And on Tuesday, the Hong Kong government said it would introduce a bill requiring district councilors to take oaths of allegiance and ban candidates from holding office for five years if they are considered dishonest or not so patriotic.

You can not say, I am patriotic, but I do not respect the fact that it is the Chinese Communist Party that leads the country, said Erick Tsang, Hong Kong’s secretary for constitutional and continental affairs, at a press conference.

Michael Mo, a pro-democracy district councilor who has been sincere in his criticism of the government, said he planned to take the oath of allegiance but that he had no control over whether that would be enough for the authorities.

It is not up to me to determine if I am a patriot, said Mr. Mo. The so-called crossing sign is unknown.

Government movements can further calm free speech and political debate in the city. Since Beijing enacted the national security law, city officials have used it for a wide-ranging crackdown. They have arrested more than 100 people, including activists, politicians, an American lawyer and a pro-democracy publisher.

I can only say that people worry about it for example, if criticism of the Communist Party or the political system in China is considered unpatriotic, then they have this kind of self-censorship, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer in government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before the last years of security law, Beijing generally allowed the Hong Kong legislature to draft and pass laws governing the territory. As a sign of how drastic the new approach is from previous years, some Hong Kong politicians initially expressed skepticism that Beijing would once again bypass local officials to pass legislation.

On Monday, hours after Mr. Xia’s speech, Hong Kong’s Chinese official in charge, Holden Chow, a pro-establishment lawmaker, said he was still waiting for Hong Kong to formulate its own electoral changes, as was the tradition.

But on Tuesday, as a wave of officials stated their expectations that Beijing would act directly, Mr Chow said he had changed his mind and that he fully supported the central governments’ intention to act from above.

He said Beijing’s actions did not diminish the influence of Hong Kong leaders. “I do not think you will find these things very often,” he said of direct action on electoral reform and national security law.

It’s just about these two key and important issues, Mr Chow said. I still believe that, moving forward, we still have a role to play.

Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing and Vivian Wang and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong. Tiffany May contributed to the report from Hong Kong.

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