China tightens its grip over Hong Kong: Autonomy is thrown out of the window!

The objective of the CCP is to root out candidates who are deemed to be disloyal.

In the last year or so, China has tightened its control over Hong Kong by introducing the National Security Law which gives the authorities wide ranging powers to arrest and crush any dissent.

In addition, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has planned a thorough reform of the electoral system in Hong Kong to ensure that only ‘patriots’ becomes members of the legislature so that the governance system can be totally loyal to the CCP. In effect, Hong Kong’s autonomy is being thrown out of the window!

The reason for wanting to appoint loyalists to the Hong Kong’s legislature is a consequence of the CCP wanting greater control over the affairs after the 2019 anti-government protests created challenges for governance and gained substantial international attention. 

Recently, the police in Hong Kong charged forty-seven former opposition lawmakers and activists for allegedly conspiring to subvert state power and for their role in an unofficial primary run-off election that authorities claimed was a plot to overthrow the government. 

Those charged, have been denied bail by the police. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the architect of the primaries, is among this group.

Also charged are Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, its vice-chairman Jeremy Tam Man-ho, and a group of young district councillors such as Lester Shum and Fergus Leung Fong-wai, as well as activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and People Power’s Tam Tak-chi who are currently in jail.

All those arrested are accused of violating Article 22(3) of the national security law by conspiring to “subvert the state power by organising, planning, committing or participating in acts which seriously interfere in, disrupt or undermine the performance of duties and functions by the local and central governments, by force or threat of force or other unlawful means”.

It is a little absurd that China should be using the national security law to claim a conspiracy of a coup and that too through a primary election, which had drawn a turnout of more than 600,000 in July 2020.

The primary was aimed at narrowing the field of candidates deemed most likely to help the bloc score their first-ever majority in the Hong Kong’s legislature, a strategy also known as “35-plus”.

Authorities allege that the opposition had planned to take control of the 70-member Legislative Council at the now-postponed official elections, claiming it was part of a wider plan to paralyse the government.

It is in this context that one must view the proposed reform to electoral laws in Hong Kong.

The objective of the CCP is to root out candidates who are deemed to be disloyal.

What the CCP wants is that Hong Kong’s legislature be run by ‘patriots’ and not those who would rebel and take to the streets to protest against China. 

The proposed overhaul reinforces the CCP’s desire to maintain tight control over Hong Kong’s political future and ensure quelling of any political dissent especially after the anti-government protests that rocked the territory in 2019.

The electoral reforms will complement the national security law enacted in 2020, the latter giving authorities sweeping powers to target dissent. What these reforms aim to achieve is best described by Xia Baolong, China’s director pf Hong Kong and Macau has said, “In our country where socialist democracy is practiced, political dissent is allowed, but there is a red line here. It must not be allowed to damage the fundamental system of the country — that is, damage the leadership of the Communist Party of China.”

Thus, it has been made clear that the CCP does not want any action to be taken in Hong Kong that hurts the image of the CCP leaders!

China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, raised the issue in January 2021 with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, telling her that having patriots govern Hong Kong was the only way to ensure long-term stability.

More recently, the Hong Kong government a bill would be introduced requiring District Councillors to take loyalty oaths and could ban candidates from standing for office for five years if they were deemed insincere or insufficiently patriotic.

The government’s moves could further obstruct free speech and political debate in Hong Kong.

Since the national security law was imposed, the city’s authorities have used it to arrest more than 100 people, including activists, politicians, an American lawyer and a pro-democracy publisher.

Officially, the Hong Kong authorities have stated that concerns over the “erosion of freedoms” under the national security law were “unsubstantiated and unwarranted.”

However, the security legislation is a broad-brush law that tackles subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism and people booked under the law can be punished with up to life in jail.

For example, article 54 of the law authorises the national security bureau in Hong Kong “to strengthen the management of and services” of NGOs, a vague clause that critics say mirrors legislation introduced by Beijing in 2017 to give authorities more power to regulate the activities of foreign NGOs in the mainland. 

The latest planned reform seeks to prevent electoral upsets and, more important, would give Beijing a much greater grip on the 1,200-member committee that will decide who will be the city’s chief executive for the next five years.

Different groups will vote this year to choose their representatives on the committee.

The urgency of the CCP’s move suggests a concern that pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong is so strong that the party could lose control of the committee unless it disqualifies democracy advocates from serving in the legislature.

One of the other consequences of the new law, is being felt by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), who have till now operated without fear in Hong King. When in 1997, the British handed over Hong Kong to China, they had signed a pact guaranteeing the citizens and others resident in the region, autonomy, including freedom of speech and assembly.

But today, the fear and concern is palpable, as NGOs are making choices of staying on and working under the watchful eyes of the police or are preparing to move to other countries to continue their work. 

Increasingly, then China has tightened its control over Hong Kong in myriad ways and it is only a matter of time before, autonomy remains only a word in Hong Kong’s law and has no meaning whatsoever.