Chinese Official Signals Changes to Hong Kong Election Rules


: Empty seats of pro-democracy lawmakers are seen during Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's annual policy address
FILE PHOTO: Empty seats of pro-democracy lawmakers are seen during Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo(REUTERS)

China faces a “critical and urgent” task to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, Beijing’s top official for the city said, in the latest sign that authorities were mulling major changes in the coming weeks.

Beijing needed to reform the city’s electoral system “to ensure that Hong Kong’s governance is firmly controlled by patriots,” Xia Baolong, director of China’s cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said in a speech Monday.

Speaking to the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, Xia said that to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system, “relevant legal loopholes within the framework of the Constitution and the Basic Law” need to be closed — and that it was up to the central government to communicate those changes to the local administration.

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The remarks follow a number of articles and comments in Chinese state media, and are the latest sign that China is contemplating further curbs to Hong Kong’s already-limited democracy, where a committee of 1,200 business and political elites selects the city’s leader and Beijing retains veto power.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press conference later Monday that Beijing needed to enact electoral reform to ensure everyone involved in governing the city was patriotic.

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Security Law

Beijing intends to limit the influence of opposition groups on the committee that picks the chief executive, taking seats from pro-democracy politicians and assigning them to pro-China loyalists, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the proposal. The changes would pass during an annual session of China’s legislature in March, the report said.

China has taken various steps to stamp out dissent in the former British colony since sometimes-violent protests erupted in 2019, most notably by imposing a sweeping national security law last year.

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Beijing also allowed the local government to disqualify lawmakers who were insufficiently patriotic. All opposition members of the Legislative Council resigned en masse after Lam’s administration used the new rule to kick out four lawmakers.

In comments to Lam in late January, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Hong Kong should be governed by “patriots” in order to ensure the city’s stability following unprecedented unrest in 2019.

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Lam said Monday that reforms would not be designed to limit the influence of pro-democracy politicians but that no one in government should engage in unpatriotic activities, such as colluding with foreign powers to subvert China’s central government.

“This need to change the electoral system and arrangements in Hong Kong is for one single purpose, that is to make sure that whoever is governing Hong Kong is patriotic,” she said. “It applies to various aspects of the political structure, including the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, the District Councils and the civil service.”