Veteran pro-Beijing politician Jasper Tsang said Tuesday that key officials are expected to be patriotic, echoing the controversial remarks recently made by Chinese state leader Zhang Dejiang.

“Bureau and department heads are Hong Kong’s governing team. It is very natural that the governing team must be patriots. I think few people would dispute that,” Tsang said.

Jasper Tsang. File Photo: Jasper Tsang, via Facebook.

The comment came after Zhang stirred controversy last Saturday by declaring Beijing’s power across a wide range of areas, such as “supervising” Hong Kong civil servants in terms of their allegiance to China and the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution.

“I shall emphasise that Hong Kong’s governing team must be formed by people who respect the Chinese nation, are sincere about defending the mother country’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, and will not pose a threat to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” Zhang said.

“In particular, the chief executive – as the core of the political system – must love the country and love Hong Kong, gain the central government’s trust, is competent, and enjoys popularity among Hongkongers.”

Zhang’s comment was heavily criticised by the city’s pro-democracy figures, who considered his speech to be an indication that Beijing plans to clamp down further on the semi-autonomous city.

‘Merit, not patriotism’

On Monday, members of the Civic Party met with Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam for nearly two hours to discuss their demands for the incoming leader. They urged Lam to appoint key officials based on merit, rather than based on the criteria that Zhang mentioned.

Zhang Dejiang. Photo: GovHK.

“I hope people who are incompetent will not be chosen for senior government posts just because they are patriotic,” Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said earlier. “Carrie Lam must understand that administrative-led governance is not the same as Beijing-led.”

Lam is set to take office in a month’s time on July 1, but she has yet to announce her cabinet.

Article 23

Zhang also mentioned Beijing’s intolerance towards advocates of Hong Kong independence, localism and self-determination, saying that they “are attempting to separate Hong Kong from the country by tuning it into an independent or semi-independent political entity.”

Critics questioned whether Zhang was implying to Lam that one of her “political missions” would be to legislate the controversial Article 23 anti-subversion law.

Weighing in on the debate, Tsang said: “I think it is wrong to keep delaying the legislation. Of course, it is up to the chief executive to decide what is the right time.”

The former president of the legislature added that Beijing’s confidence in Hong Kong will be affected if some people continue to challenge the principle of “One Country.”

A banner against Article 23 security law. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

See also: ‘Who is the real chief executive?’: Uproar as Chinese leader declares power to give orders to Hong Kong

Pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Starry Lee also said earlier that legislation of Article 23 may be needed if local laws cannot handle “behaviour that goes against the One Country, Two System policy.”

Her party colleague and ex-lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung said Zhang’s remarks were meant to make clear Beijing’s expectations of Hong Kong. He also repeated Zhang’s statement that Hong Kong’s political system is executive-led, rather than based on the principle of separation of powers.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.