Hong Kong's New Political System, Controlled by China, Takes Effect

2021-03-31
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Hong Kong's New Political System, Controlled by China, Takes Effect Pedestrians walk past a banner promoting support for changes imposed by Beijing to Hong Kong's political system, March 11, 2021.
AFP

A new political system imposed and controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took effect in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as the U.S. said it was "deeply concerned" by the move.

"We are deeply concerned by these changes to Hong Kong's electoral system, which defy the will of people in Hong Kong and deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance," a State Department spokesman said in comments emailed to Reuters.

Beijing on Tuesday unveiled comprehensive plans to ensure that anyone standing for election to Hong Kong's legislature is a staunch CCP supporter, with all candidates to be vetted by the national security police before being allowed to stand.

The new system will force election hopefuls to run a multi-layered gauntlet of pro-CCP committees before they can appear on any ballot paper. However, the decisions of all of those committees will hinge on approval by the national security branch of the Hong Kong Police Force, according to details published by the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee.

There will be no right of appeal to decisions of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee or opinions issued by the national security police.

District councilors, the last hope of any pro-democracy representation in the city, have also been removed from the Election Committee that chooses who will fill 40 of the 90 seats in LegCo and which also chooses the chief executive.

Elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo), which were previously scheduled for September 2020 and then postponed by a year, have now been pushed back to December 2021.

While 20 seats in a newly expanded 90-seat LegCo will still be returned by geographical constituencies and popular ballot, voters may only choose from among candidates pre-approved by the multi-layered vetting process, ensuring that pro-democracy politicians and rights campaigners are unlikely to make the cut.

The remaining seats will be appointed, or returned by trade, industry, and special interest groups. As with the geographical seats, all candidates must be pre-approved by national security police.

The authorities are also required to take action against anyone seeking to "undermine" the electoral system.

A pointless exercise

Former Democratic Party chairman Emily Lau said the new systems has turned "elections" into a pointless exercise.

"Only the people they like [can take part] so why go through so many motions; surely it would be easier just to appoint them directly," Lau told RFA after the changes were announced.

She said there was no point in standing.

"It would be totally pointless and a waste of effort," she said.

She said she would continue to try to work on behalf of Hong Kong residents within communities.

"I will keep going with that because it's what we believe in," Lau said. "Maybe there's a heavy price to be paid for doing that, and some people are willing to do that, and some are not. You can't force them."

The U.S. State Department said in its human rights report for 2020, issued on Tuesday, that the CCP has effectively "dismantled" Hong Kong's promised rights and freedoms, while a day later the top U.S. diplomat highlighted broken promises.

“I have certified to Congress that Hong Kong does not warrant differential treatment under U.S. law in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1, 1997,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement accompanying a report to Congress. Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy, freedoms, and democratic institutions” for 50 years after its handover to China from Britain.

“Over the past year, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, in violation of its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.  In particular, the PRC government's adoption and the Hong Kong government’s implementation of the National Security Law (NSL) have severely undermined the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong,” said Blinken.

Actions that run counter to the 1997 handover commitments include “the arbitrary arrests and politically-motivated prosecutions of opposition politicians, activists, and peaceful protesters under the NSL and other legislation; the postponement of Legislative Council elections; pressure on judicial independence and academic and press freedoms; and a de facto ban on public demonstrations.”

Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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