Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has backed comments by a top Chinese official that the upcoming “patriots only” election will be an exercise in “unprecedented” diversity while condemning the “blind pursuit” of western-style democracy in the past.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on December 7, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Speaking a day after Xia Baolong, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, made the comments, Lam said she agreed with Xia that democracy is not a “one size fits all” system of governance.

Her remarks came 24 hours after Xia said: “For a long period, there had was a blind pursuit for western democracy in Hong Kong which did not bring true democracy to the society, but brought social division, malicious competition, social disorder, economic imbalance and ineffective governance.”

In response to a question from a China Daily reporter at her weekly press conference on Tuesday, Lam said she “fully endorsed” the views of China’s top official on Hong Kong affairs.

“The ultimate aim and purpose of a democratic system is to improve the livelihood of the people,” the chief executive said. “What’s the point of having so-called democracy if people are suffering, as you can see in some western democracies in the course of fighting Covid-19?” she said.

Xia Baolong
Xia Baolong. Photo: Gov.cn.

Vice president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, Lau Siu-kai, said Xia’s speech on Monday echoed China’s response to the recent US-led Summit for Democracy in Washington.

Lau told a radio programme on Tuesday: “Xia’s most important message was to demonstrate the hypocrisy and different shortcomings in western democracy and showcase the superiority of the democracies in Hong Kong and China.”

‘Wide Diversity’

Xia also said the newly-restrictive legislative election would see candidates from “a wide political spectrum” and offer “broad representation,” adding that those standing for election include residents of public housing estates, people who live in subdivided flats and who work as bus drivers and registered electricians.

“To ‘govern by patriots’ is to make [the election] ‘full of colours’, meaning it contains diversity,” Xia said. “Whatever ideas, political stances, religions or demands people hold, they will have the opportunity to partake.”

Legislative Council election 2021
Publicity materials promoting the Legislative Council election scheduled on December 19, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lam said the list of nominated candidates gave credence to Xia’s remarks, adding: “We will not screen out people with a different political background. We will respect diversity and the improved electoral system will return more Legislative Council members from a broad range of backgrounds.”

In March this year a Beijing-inspired overhaul of elections saw pro-democratic representation in the city’s Legislative Council reduced and put in place a vetting panel to pre-approve candidates based on national security background checks.

The city’s government said the shake-up would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity, but it prompted international condemnation for making it almost impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand. Since the introduction of a national security law following months of street protests in 2019, pro-democracy figures are either in jail, in self-exile or have decided to quit politics. The ability to protest has also been curtailed with the city’s police blocking any potential mass demonstrations citing Covid-19 restrictions.

Ahead of the Tuesday press conference, the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats held a rally outside opposing the setting up of border zone polling stations. They asked Hong Kong people to “vote according to their conscience.”

League of Social Democrats
The League of Social Democrats rallying outside the government headquarters on December 7, 2021. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The government announced that around 110,000 Hong Kong residents currently living in China can register to vote in one of three polling stations set up on the Hong Kong side of the city’s border with mainland China.

Chan Po-ying, chairperson of the LSD, also asked Hongkongers to “vote according to their free will.”

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.