Senior Beijing official Zhang Xiaoming on Friday likened the overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system to a “minimally invasive surgery,” saying the move would end turbulence in the city and allow it to have a “speedy recovery.”

The deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office met the press a day after China’s top legislature approved major electoral amendments to ensure only “patriots” hold power in the city.

Zhang Xiaoming meets the press on March 12, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Zhang said the current electoral system was “not secure enough” and gave “anti-China destabilising forces” a way to enter the the governance system of the semi-autonomous region. He said the overhaul was intended to tackle the seizure of power, subversion and infiltration.

“On this matter, there is no room to yield at all,” Zhang said.

Chinese authorities will introduce a “review committee” to vet the qualifications of candidates in various elections. Directly-elected seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo) will be reduced, while the Election Committee for selecting the chief executive will expand from 1,200 to 1,500. The committee will have new powers to nominate legislative election hopefuls and even to appoint some LegCo members.

The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity following months of protest in 2019. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as they make it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

The NPC’s voting result on a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Zhang cited comments by members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), who hailed the changes as a “belated Spring” and the “best blessing” for Hong Kong. The senior Chinese official said these remarks reflected the “common aspiration” of the people of Hong Kong.

In response to some NPC delegates who said the city’s electoral system needed “major surgery,” just as a serious illness needed strong medicine, Zhang said the analogy was a “vivid illustration.”

“To be more accurate, the electoral improvement is like a minimally invasive surgery, with an incision that is small but deep enough to remove the infection and allow for a speedy recovery.”

Asked whether the new electoral rules would exclude opposition members, Zhang said “anti-China elements” did not necessarily equate to the pan-democratic camp. He said there were also “patriots” among democrats, who could stand in elections in accordance with the law.

Legislative Council meeting on the first day without democrats after they announced mass resignations. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“LegCo will only be more broadly representative in the future and one can still hear different voices including criticisms of the government in LegCo,” he said.

He mentioned campaigns to collect signatures in Hong Kong backing the decision, as well as an opinion poll conducted by the Hong Kong Research Association – founded by Thomas So, who holds positions in several pro-establishment organisations. The polls conducted between March 5-9 via randomised phone interviews showed 69 per cent of respondents supported Beijing’s move to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system.

“This is forceful rebuttal of the smears and attacks against the decision made by some overseas,” Zhang said.

The HKMAO deputy chief said the overhaul would go “hand in hand” with the national security law, which was enacted last June through a similar process without any local legislative oversight. The controversial legislation criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign powers and terrorist acts.

Together with the formulation of the security legislation, the planned amendments to Hong Kong’s electoral system represent a “punch combination” that will effectively tackle chaos in the city and restore political stability, Zhang said.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.