Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has endorsed plans by Beijing to ensure “patriots” rule the city, saying they were needed to stop hatred of China and sustain the “one country, two systems” governance model for the semi-autonomous territory.
Her comments, made at a regular weekly news conference on Tuesday, come a day after a key member of China’s cabinet signalled changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system designed to further marginalise the pro-democracy opposition in the city’s institutions.
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Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said Hong Kong can only be ruled by “patriots”, a term he said includes people who love China, its constitution and the Communist Party and excludes anti-China “troublemakers”.
“Key posts under every circumstances must not be taken up by anyone ‘who goes against China and disrupts Hong Kong’,” Xia said.
“Those who stand in opposition to patriots are destroyers of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and they should not be allowed to take a share of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s political power. Not now, not ever,” he added.
The measures would further consolidate the authoritarian turn Hong Kong has taken since Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law in June 2020 and the arrest of most of its prominent democratic politicians and activists. The law was introduced in response to huge pro-democracy protests that sometimes descended into violence in 2019.
Lam built on Xia’s comments on Tuesday, saying that protests demanding democracy or blocking legislation proposed by the various pro-Beijing governments had stoked “hatred” against Beijing and the Hong Kong government.
“These series of incidents made the central government worried and of course, for me, as the chief executive, it is also worrying,” Lam told reporters.
“To stop the situation from worsening to a point that ‘one country, two systems’ could hardly be carried out, the problems need to be tackled at a central government level.”
The changes, likely to be announced in March, are expected to place restrictions on those allowed to run in legislative elections and lead to the disqualification of most lower-level district councillors – the majority of them pro-democracy politicians who won a sweeping victory in elections in November 2019.
The South China Morning Post newspaper said the reforms would mark “the most significant restructuring of the political and administrative systems of the city” since the United Kingdom returned the territory to China in 1997.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the US-based Human Rights Watch, said the moves mean China wants only “toadies of the Chinese Communist Party” to be able to run for office in Hong Kong.
“Another nail in the coffin of any semblance of democracy in Hong Kong,” he said in a tweet.
The new rules could further skew the makeup of a 1,200-member committee, which elects the city’s leader in favour of the pro-Beijing camp.