Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has rejected claims that major political changes planned by Beijing are intended to suppress pro-democracy politicians after a senior Chinese official declared that only “patriots” should hold power in the city.
Lam told reporters on Monday that the policy of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” was not new, was “only to be expected” and was a necessary condition for implementing One Country, Two Systems.
Lam said such a requirement was “not a very high standard” and should cover all groups listed under the SAR’s political structure in Article 4 of the Basic Law. They include the chief executive, executive authorities, the legislature, the judiciary, district organisations and public servants.
“This standard of requesting someone who loves their country to rule the country, [I] believe is universal,” she said.
Xia Baolong, director of China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said on Monday that the power to govern the city should only be in the hands of “patriots,” who genuinely uphold Chinese sovereignty and respect the constitutional order of the semi-autonomous region.
The Beijing official warned the city has an urgent need to “perfect” its electoral system under the leadership of the central authorities and to shut out “anti-China” opposition from the governing structure.
The chief executive rejected speculation that the impending reforms targeted the pro-democracy camp. “These works are not intended to suppress a certain political camp.”
Lam said if that the reforms had any association with the word “suppression,” it would be suppressing those who advocate Hong Kong’s independence and “violent individuals” who “pushed Hong Kong down an abyss.”
“[It is] to suppress some people who forgot their ancestors, who do not know they are Chinese. [People] who collude with foreign societies and political organisations to damage Hong Kong and its stability and prosperity,” she said.
The city’s largest pro-Beijing party the DAB threw its weight behind the concept of “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” saying it was vital to the success of One Country, Two Systems. The party decried some people as continuously planning actions to confront the central authorities and damage the policy implemented since the 1997 handover.
“[I]ncluding advocating Hong Kong independence to poison young people, supporting black violence to damage the rule of law, colluding with foreign forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs and even attempting to steal the power to govern by running in an election to paralyse the government,” the DAB said.
In the wake of months of sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests in 2019, China in June last year imposed a national security law on Hong Kong which critics say has stifled free speech.
Last month, 55 pro-democracy figures were arrested for “subversion” under the law in connection with an unofficial primary election for the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. Police alleged the group involved in the primary was attempting to use strategic voting to achieve a legislative majority, with plans to veto budget bills, force the chief executive to resign and shut down the government.
The New People’s Party, led by pro-establishment lawmaker and ex-security minister Regina Ip, also voiced full support for Xia’s remarks. The party said the 2014 Occupy Central Movement and the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests were “unprecedented violent incidents” that showed “important pieces of governance” were occupied by individuals who harm the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.
“[T]he Legislative Council and the District Council, occupied by people who oppose the country’s sovereignty and endanger national security… distorted Hong Kong’s political system,” it said.
Following Xia’s speech on Monday, local press cited sources predicting the likely electoral changes. Sources told HK01 that Beijing may establish an organisation to evaluate whether a candidate fulfils the standards of a “patriot” for different levels of election, including the LegCo and District Council elections.
Lawyer Maggie Chen, who is also a deputy to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), told Ming Pao that at next month’s NPC meeting she would suggest setting up a committee to review the eligibility of people holding public office.
There is also speculation of a reduction in the number of seats filled by district councillors on the committee which elects the chief executive. The councillors currently vote among themselves to pick 117 representatives to sit on the 1,200-member committee. The spots are highly likely to end up in the hands of democrats, after the pro-democracy camp won a historic landslide victory in the 2019 district council elections.
Beijing loyalist Lau Siu-kai told local media that the incumbent Legislative Council does not have enough members to approve amendments to electoral laws. The legislature saw the mass resignation of pro-democracy legislators last November, who quit in protest at the disqualification of four “unpatriotic” colleagues.
Lau predicted Beijing would pass a resolution on electoral arrangements, similar to the enactment of the sweeping security legislation last June, which would be implemented by the SAR government.
A columnist at the pro-establishment Hong Kong Economic Times said the LegCo polls in September may be delayed for a second time to give time for the government to put the amendments in place.
Chinese University scholar Ivan Choy told local media that while Xia had declared that only patriots could become part of the city’s governance structure, it was too soon to gauge the impact on the prospects of pro-democracy election hopefuls taking part in future polls.
He said it remains to be seen whether the definition of “non-patriots” would cover traditional moderate democrats, dissidents and the Hong Kong Alliance, which organised annual vigils to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.