Top Chinese and Hong Kong officials voiced support for an overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong” over the weekend, as Beijing moves to pass legislation to tighten control of the city’s already restrictive democracy.

The move was necessary to defend against “separatists,” said China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng during the third day of the Two Sessions meetings in Beijing. The annual event is the largest parliamentary meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Vice-Premier Han Zheng. Photo: CGTN Screenshot.

“No country in the world will tolerate separatists’ sabotage,” the vice-premier said on Saturday during a panel discussion with members of the Hong Kong and Macau delegation.

“We must take effective, necessary and law-based measures to improve the electoral system of the HKSAR to ensure ‘the people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong’ with patriots as the mainstay,” Han said.

On Friday, vice-chairman of the NPC’s standing committee Wang Chen announced that there was an obvious need to “plug loopholes and flaws” in the current system.

Photo: CGTN Screenshot.

Beijing is expected to reduce the ratio of directly-elected legislative seats and expel all district councillors from the committee which elects the city’s chief executive. Meanwhile, a committee will be established to vet all potential candidates for the election committee, Legislative Council and District Councils, according to sources cited by local media.

Also over the weekend, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the plans were lawful: “The move to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system… is necessitated by the need to advance the One Country, Two Systems cause and to maintain long-term stability in Hong Kong. It is the constitutional power and responsibility of the NPC and is totally constitutional, lawful and justified,” the minister said at a press conference on Sunday.

“Loyalty to the motherland is a basic political ethic of all public office holders and aspirants… How can we expect someone who does not love their motherland to truly love Hong Kong? Loving Hong Kong and loving the motherland are consistent requirements,” he added.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Photo: CGTN Screenshot.

The changed will amend the provisions made for the city’s electoral processes in Annex I and II of the Basic Law.

‘At the earliest’

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng also expressed support for the upcoming shake-up. “The Central Authorities should take the lead to improve the electoral system of HKSAR in accordance with the Constitution, the Basic Law, the Hong Kong National Security Law and other relevant legal instruments,” Cheng wrote on her official blog on Saturday.

Teresa Cheng at the Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year 2021. File photo: GovHK.

“I will lead the colleagues of the Department of Justice… in completing the legislative amendments with dedicated efforts, with a view to implementing the decision to improve the HKSAR electoral system at the earliest possible [time],” she continued.

Former chief executive and current vice-chair of the CPPC Leung Chun-ying, meanwhile, said that the changes will “set the minds of central authorities and Hongkongers “at ease.”

The Two Sessions meeting – during which Beijing unveils its policy priorities for the upcoming year and its next five year plan – is set to continue until Thursday.

‘Obliterate Hong Kong’s freedoms’

The proposed changes to the city’s electoral system come seven months after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, which authorities said was necessary to “restore stability” after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019. The law has been used to charge the majority of the city’s key political opposition figures with “subversion”, in what critics decry as a move by authorities to muzzle all dissent.

Protester holding banner that reads: “Give me back my right to vote. Reinstate the elections immediately.” File photo: Joshua Kwan/United Social Press.

The European Union has warned Beijing that it should “carefully consider” any reforms that “would undermine fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principle.”

“If enacted, such reform would have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for democratic principles and democratically elected-representatives in Hong Kong,” it said in a statement on Friday, adding that the bloc may have to take “additional steps” over the reforms.

Hong Kong’s last British governor Lord Chris Patten has slammed the changes as “the biggest step so far to obliterate Hong Kong’s freedoms and aspirations for greater democracy under the rule of law.”

Before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, China’s leader Deng Xiaoping promised the British government that the freedoms and high level of autonomy the city enjoyed under British rule would remain unchanged for 50 years. The Basic Law states that the “ultimate aim” for Hong Kong was to achieve universal suffrage in a “gradual and orderly manner” in accordance with democratic values and processes.

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