China approves sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s political system

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Chinese leaders on Tuesday approved a major overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system, creating powers to control whoever runs for public office and reducing the number of directly elected politicians.

The new measures, which bypassed the Hong Kong legislature and were imposed directly by Beijing, are the latest move to quash the city’s democratic movement after huge protests.

President Xi Jinping signed the new law after it was unanimously approved by China’s top decision-making body.

One of the most dramatic changes is the introduction of a committee that will scrutinize anyone wishing to enter politics in Hong Kong for their patriotism.

The body will include background checks by the territory’s new national security apparatus and its decisions cannot be legally challenged.

“The National Security Committee and the National Security Police will provide reports on each candidate to assist in the selection by the Qualifications Review Committee,” Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s only delegate to the AFP, told AFP. Chinese parliament.

When Hong Kong people are allowed to vote in limited local elections, they tend to vote overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, which has rocked authoritarian Beijing.

Under the new measures, the city’s legislature will be reduced from 70 to 90 seats.

But only 20 of these seats will now be directly elected, compared to 35. This reduces direct representation from half to less than a quarter of the seats.

The majority – 40 seats – will be chosen by a reliably pro-Beijing committee. The remaining 30 will be chosen by “functional groups” – bodies representing certain industries and interest groups that have also been historically loyal to Beijing.

The measures have been welcomed by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government, which will no longer have to deal with loud and disruptive pro-democracy opposition in the legislature.

“The excessive politicization of society and the internal divide that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively alleviated,” said Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam.

The next parliamentary elections under the new system will be held in December, she said.

“Hong Kong’s institutions of political power and governance must always be firmly in the hands of those who love the motherland and Hong Kong,” added the Hong Kong and Macau affairs office, which formulates Beijing’s policies for the financial center.

– ‘Degrading’ –

Opposition figures and some analysts have been less optimistic, describing the new measures as a clear step to ensure any remaining opposition to Beijing’s rule is stamped out.

“This brand new system is really degrading and very oppressive,” Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy MP, told AFP.

Lau asked if Hong Kong people would want to participate in future elections and warned that political unrest could explode again.

Chong Ja Ian, associate professor of politics at the National University of Singapore, said the new measures “appear to go against the spirit of free, fair and competitive elections, limiting popular participation in the political process.” .

“Certainly, giving a police force the power to monitor who can run for office is not seen in systems generally considered democratic in a significant sense,” he told AFP.

– Repression –

Chinese leaders have taken decisive action to dismantle Hong Kong’s limited democratic pillars after massive protests in 2019, imposing a national security law that has been militarized against the financial center’s democratic movement.

Dozens of activists have been prosecuted or jailed, quelling protests in a city that enjoyed more political freedoms than the authoritarian continent under the “one country, two systems” agreed before Britain’s handover in 1997.

Hong Kong’s withering of democratic freedoms is one of the main fronts emerging between the West and China, which insists it is a domestic matter.

Electoral “reforms” resuscitated a cascade of criticism from Western powers when they were first announced in March.

Britain has said China is no longer living up to its “one country, two systems” pledge, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted on Tuesday that the changes adopted were a “clear violation of the joint statement”.

US President Joe Biden described the lockdown of the city’s freedoms as part of a larger Chinese-led attack on democracy and rights, including the treatment of Muslim minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region .

The future of Hong Kong is of great interest to international powers and corporations as it is home to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and billions of dollars in investment.

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