In its latest move to tighten control over Hong Kong, China is pushing for a controversial “patriot” plan to reform the city’s elections.
Beijing says the goal is to keep “unpatriotic” figures from positions of political power in Hong Kong. But critics warn it would mean the end of democracy in Hong Kong, eradicating whatever opposition it is left.
Hong Kong used to be under British control but was handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle. This was meant to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong, which no other part of mainland China has: freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary, and some democratic rights.
These freedoms are enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which was meant to last until 2047. On 11 March, the “patriots governing Hong Kong” resolution was passed at the National People’s Congress, paving the way for Beijing to amend annexes of the Basic Law. The changes are aimed at reforming Hong Kong’s legislature, known as the Legislative Council (LegCo). They are likely to ensure all LegCo candidates are screened before they run for office – essentially vetting them for their allegiance to Beijing.
LegCo has 70 seats, about half of which are directly voted for by the public, and some of those seats have gone to pro-democracy figures in the past.
The other half is filled by smaller groups representing special interests such as business, banking, and trade – sectors that are historically pro-Beijing. The move appears to be a continuation of China’s plan to tighten control over Hong Kong, following recent developments.
Huge pro-democracy protests took place in 2019, some of which turned violent. Later that year, pro-democracy groups made huge gains in local district council elections. Since then, Beijing has passed a controversial national security law, which effectively reduces Hong Kong’s autonomy and made it easier to punish demonstrators. Dozens of people have since been arrested under this law.
Critics, including the UK government, alleging that China is now effectively undermining the “one country, two systems” principle with all these changes. But Beijing says it is safeguarding its sovereignty and rejects what it calls “foreign interference” in domestic affairs.