China claimed credit on Monday for developing democracy in Hong Kong’s in a white paper issued hours after the city’s first Legislative Council election under a Beijing-decreed system produced a record low turnout and just one non-establishment member.

The “improved” electoral system provided “advantageous conditions” for the ultimate goal of implementing universal suffrage, according to Beijing’s white paper published after the city’s first “patriots-only” legislative race.

2021 LegCo Election: Lok Wah Estate Community Centre in Ngau Tau Kok.
Lok Wah Estate Community Centre in Ngau Tau Kok. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The policy document said China’s Communist Party “has championed whole-process people’s democracy in China, and this has laid the groundwork for developing democracy in Hong Kong under the framework of One Country, Two Systems.”

The white paper was published by the State Council’s Information Office.

Sunday’s election, it said, was characterised by “wide representation,” “political inclusiveness,” “balanced participation,” and a “fair competition.”

“In a very long period in the past, Hong Kong blindly chased after the formality of Western democracy. In reality, it has brought not real democracy to Hong Kong, but division, disorder in society and failing administration: Hong Kong residents never truly enjoyed authentic democracy,” the paper read.

The 2019 anti-extradition bill crisis and the “chaos” in the District Council elections that year “fully exposed the major flaws and loopholes” in Hong Kong’s electoral system, the white paper said.

The revamped system ordered by Beijing sharply reduced the number of LegCo seats elected by the general public and set tough new “patriotism” conditions for potential candidates. Mainstream pro-democracy parties did not put forward any candidates. Most of the city’s pro-democracy figures are in any case either behind bars or self-exiled, or have quit politics.

2021 LegCo Election vote counting
Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Out of the 90 seats in LegCo after vote-counting ended on Monday, only one newly-elected candidate claimed to be “non-pro-establishment.”

No democracy under British rule

The document said Hong Kong had no democracy under British colonial rule which ended in 1997, and colonial authorities had “implemented highly suppressive policies for a long period, closely controlling news publications, and clamping down on freedom of speech.”

It cited a case in March 1952, when it said Ta Kung Pao was convicted of publishing seditious words for sharing a People’s Daily’s commentary on the “brutal acts” of the Hong Kong-British government. The paper was fined and publication was suspended.

The white paper also accused Britain of violating the Joint Declaration with a series of actions, including the introduction of a visa scheme for British National (Overseas) Passport owners.

Hong Kong’s post-colonial government is still using the anti-sedition law. Following the 2019 protests, some pro-democracy figures and groups, including activist Tam Tak-chi and a trade union for speech therapists, were charged under the legislation, which was last amended in 1972 in colonial times.

National security law
File Photo: GovHK.

The pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily was shut in June this year after its founder, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and several of its journalists were charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law, which criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

China maintains that its people enjoy a form of democracy based on extensive consultations by the ruling communist party, even though they cannot vote for their leaders and freedom of speech is restricted.

In its conclusion, the white paper said that “democracy is the unswerving pursuit of the Chinese people.”

“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is welcoming a new stage of restoring matters to order and moving towards governance and prosperity.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.