Only patriots should be allowed to rule Hong Kong and “dissidents” must be expelled from the system, a senior Chinese official said Tuesday, days after the departure of all opposition members from the city’s legislature.

The time is ripe to “bring order out of chaos” after a series of protests in recent years, said Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

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Photo: Webcast screenshot.

Last week the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (legislature) handed down a decision that would allow the disqualification of elected Hong Kong legislators deemed to be insufficiently loyal to the local and national governments.

Hours later last Wednesday, the city’s government ousted four opposition lawmakers from the Legislative Council and all 15 other pro-democracy members resigned in protest.

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“Before we talk about the core values of Hong Kong, we need to talk about patriotism,” Zhang told a summit organised by Hong Kong’s Justice Department to mark the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. “We should only allow patriots to rule Hong Kong.”

“Four dissidents have been removed, this is to protect our legal foundation,” he said via a webcast. “This is a good precedent to show that only those who are patriotic and truly love the city and our motherland should be in place. Otherwise, they should be removed from the system.”

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Democratic Party lawmakers Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting meet the press before entering the Legislative Council chamber to submit resignation letters. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Opposition lawmakers Kenneth Leung, Kwok-Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung were disqualified as legislators with immediate effect. Following the walkout by their colleagues, the legislature has only two members who are not from pro-establishment parties.

The disqualification of the four legislators prompted strong overseas criticism and claims that Beijing was eroding the autonomy which it promised Hong Kong before the 1997 handover from Britain.

“People who serve the Hong Kong government should embrace the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the People’s Republic of China, and they should not engage in any activity or matter that may damage such principles and stability of Hong Kong,” Zhang added.

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The deputy director blasted protest campaigns of recent years, including the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and last year’s anti-extradition bill rallies, saying they caused “great damage to the Hong Kong legal system” and that now is now the moment to “[correct] mistakes and bring order out of chaos.”

The city’s government is now taking measures to improve its system regarding the taking of oaths by civil servants, national education, and approval of lawmakers, Zhang said. These measures would not impede judicial independence but fix current “loopholes and problems.”

Newly hired government workers are required to swear allegiance to the government, under the National Security Law established in July. There have been concerns over textbook censorship, where terms such as “separation of powers” were removed after a government review.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.