Hong Kong’s opposition bloc planned to resign on Wednesday after China moved to disqualify lawmakers who aren’t deemed sufficiently loyal, one of Beijing’s strongest moves yet to quash dissent in the territory.
More than a dozen members of the pro-democracy camp of the 70-seat Legislative Council will quit at a press conference later Wednesday following the disqualification of four members under Beijing’s new rules, democratic politician Fernando Cheung said by phone.
“This move makes it clear that dictatorship has descended on to Hong Kong and that Chinese Communist Party can eradicate all opposing voices in the legislature,” Cheung said. “There’s no more separation of powers, no more ‘one country, two systems,’ and therefore no more Hong Kong as we know it.”
China’s top legislative body earlier passed a measure requiring Hong Kong lawmakers to demonstrate loyalty to the central government, curbing debate in a democratic institution that has endured more than two decades after the former British colony’s return. The decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is “conducive to the long-term peace and stability, as well as prosperity and development of Hong Kong,” Chairman Li Zhanshu said at the close of its two-day meeting.
Offences included supporting Hong Kong independence, refusing to recognize China’s sovereignty over the city, asking foreign countries to intervene, failing to uphold the territory’s Basic Law or pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and “engaging in any other acts that endanger national security,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said.
“We need to have a political body that’s composed of patriots,” Lam said at a briefing on Wednesday, echoing similar statements from China’s top agencies overseeing Hong Kong. She dismissed concerns that Hong Kong would have a “rubber-stamp” legislature if the pro-democracy members resigned, saying she welcomes “diverse opinion.”
Hong Kong Ousts Four Lawmakers After China Passes Patriotism Law
The resolution is the latest sign of China’s determination to rein in dissent in the wake of anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong last year. Beijing bypassed the Legislative Council to impose controversial national security legislation in June, causing the Group of Seven nations to accuse China of violating the terms of its handover agreement with the UK and prompting the Trump administration to sanction more than a dozen senior officials who oversee the city.
A mass resignation would highlight international concerns about China’s human rights practices just as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on a promise to defend democratic values around the world. He has vowed to “fully enforce” legislation signed by President Donald Trump that punishes Beijing for eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Wednesday called the matter “purely China’s internal affairs,” and warned foreign governments to avoid “interference or wanton comments.”
The ability to purge opposition lawmakers would make it easier for Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed politicians to control the Legislative Council if they win an unprecedented majority in elections that the government has postponed — citing coronavirus concerns — over the protests of democracy advocates.
The move by Beijing will demolish any opposition in the legislature and allow the Hong Kong government to ram through even more restrictive measures in the coming years, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
‘Beijing is trying to eradicate any political opposition’
“The situation is quite clear in Hong Kong that Beijing is trying to eradicate any political opposition, whether it’s the moderate or the radical wing,” Choy said. “In the next two years, I think they’ll do even more nasty things to strengthen their draconian rule.”
The disqualified lawmakers on Wednesday were Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, Hong Kong’s government said in a statement. The four lawmakers had been criticized by authorities for using delay tactics common in democratic legislatures around the world.
“The people of Hong Kong should not give up,” Kwok Ka-ki said as opposition members briefed Wednesday. “We can’t give up.”
The move will raise new questions about the future of the legislature, perhaps the most high-profile platform for open debate left under Beijing’s rule. After several “localist” activists were among a record 29 opposition lawmakers elected in 2016, China handed down a ruling that led to the disqualification of a half dozen lawmakers.
Several remaining lawmakers are also facing criminal charges related to various protests against the government, including seven charged in recent months with participating in a May scuffle at the Legislative Council.
“It means, effectively, the end of meaningful opposition in Hong Kong and the acceleration of the integration of Hong Kong into the mainland party state,” said Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of “City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong.”
“Going forward, Legco will only be comprised of Beijing-friendly people and the scope for opposition figures, even if they get into Legco, to do anything meaningful will be constrained to the extent that the Legco becomes like the NPC: a rubber-stamp parliament.”