China parliament seeks to ensure ‘patriots’ in charge in Hong Kong, official says

The remarks by Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, confirmed widespread local reports of imminent changes to the city’s political structure.

China’s parliament is set to amend Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure “patriots” are in charge, a senior Chinese official said on Thursday, as the Beijing cracks down on dissent in the country’s freest city.

The remarks by Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People’s Congress, confirmed widespread local reports of imminent changes to the city’s political structure.

Hong Kong’s Cable TV broadcaster, citing unnamed sources, said after Zhang spoke that the electoral reforms would include increasing the size of an election committee to select Hong Kong’s leader from 1,200 to 1,500, and the city’s legislature from 70 to 90 seats. China is due to unveil a new five-year development plan along with socio-economic targets for 2021 when its annual meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament begins on Friday.

Hong Kong diplomats, businesspeople and political activists are watching developments closely, some fearing Beijing is keen to further thwart democratic opposition already threatened by the parliament’s imposition of a sweeping national security law last June.

While critics say the law has been used to crush dissent and curb freedoms in the former British colony, Beijing and Hong Kong officials say it was vital to end anti-China protests and violence that rocked the city in 2019 – political action they say was partly manipulated by foreign governments.

A Hong Kong judge kept 47 pro-democracy activists in custody on Thursday after four days of bail hearings in a case that has drawn global concern that Beijing is using the national security law to stifle dissent.

Recent developments showed the electoral system “needs to be improved to keep up with the times and provide a sound institutional guarantee of ‘one country, two systems’, and the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong,” Zhang said.

The parliament had “supreme state power”, he added, under the constitution in deciding on changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees its widespread freedoms, extensive autonomy and capitalist way of life would continue under the “one country, two systems” model.

Some observers are bracing for moves to keep democrats out of the election committee. The grouping must convene before Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s five-year term ends in July next year.

Some reports suggest a group of community-level district councillors – a directly elected pro-democratic block – could be removed from the legislature.

Broader use of patriotic oaths are expected to enforce loyalty – moves which have already been used to disqualify some democratic politicians from the legislature.

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