China’s electoral reform ‘earthquake’ will change Hong Kong politics By Reuters

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By James Pomfret and Clare Jim HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s plan to drastically reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, expected to be unveiled at a parliamentary session in Beijing starting this week, will change the territory’s political scene. according to more than a dozen politicians. across the spectrum. The proposed reform will put more pressure on pro-democracy activists, who are already the target of a crackdown on dissent and have ruffled the feathers of some Beijing loyalists, some of whom may be swept away by an ambitious new crop. loyal, people said. “It will be an earthquake that will shake local political interests,” said a person briefed on the impending changes. The measures will be presented at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, which begins on Friday, according to media reports. The plan was signaled last week by senior Chinese official Xia Baolong, who said Beijing would introduce systemic changes to allow only those he calls “patriots” to hold public office in Hong Kong. In a full transcript of his comments published this week by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia Magazine, Xia said that Hong Kong’s electoral system had to be “designed” to suit the city’s situation and exclude those he called not. patriots, some of whom described as “anti-China agitators” who would bring destruction and terror to the city, a reference to pro-democracy activists who took to the streets in sometimes violent demonstrations in 2019. Xia did not announce any details But the plan will likely include changes to the way Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature is elected, and the makeup of a committee that will select Hong Kong’s next leader, according to the person briefed on the plan and reports from the local media. Veteran Democrats were quick to condemn the plan. “It totally destroys any hope of democracy in the future,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a former pro-democracy member of the Hong Kong legislature. “The whole concept of Xia Baolong is that the Communist Party rules Hong Kong and only those who support the party can have any role.” Lee learned of the impending reform last week, in the middle of his trial, along with a group of eight other pro-democracy activists, on illegal assembly charges related to a protest in August 2019. “It no longer belongs to him. people decide. ” Lee told Reuters on a lunch break from the trial last week. “It’s the one-party rule, completely.” The prospect of further bending the electoral process to China’s liking has also worried some pro-Beijing figures, who think it may go too far and ultimately hurt Hong Kong. “Don’t go too far and kill the patient,” Shiu Sin-por, a pro-Beijing politician and former head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit, told reporters after a briefing with Xia on the matter. The opposition camp has already been neutralized by last year’s national security law, Shiu said, allowing the government to “push policies smoothly.” China’s main liaison office in Hong Kong and China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment. The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it was prioritizing the implementation of the “patriots who rule Hong Kong” principle and improving the electoral system, and that it will continue to hear opinions on the matter. POLITICAL MATH The electoral reform is the latest political tremor to hit Hong Kong, a former colony that Britain returned to China in 1997, which retains some autonomy from Beijing and whose status as a global financial center was based on the rule of law and the civil liberties. not allowed in mainland China. The atmosphere of the city has radically changed in the last 18 months. Massive street protests in 2019 against China’s intensification of control led Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law last June, which authorities have used to jail activists and crack down on dissent. On Sunday, Hong Kong police charged 47 pro-democracy activists and activists with conspiracy to commit subversion for their role in organizing and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, the largest individual crackdown under the new law. . Although such arrests have already sidelined the pro-democracy camp, China wants to exert greater control over a voting process that has remained largely unchanged since 1997, and still fears that Democrats will win a majority in the legislature in the next election, the insider said on the electoral reform plan. “They did the math and it was considered too risky to do nothing,” the person said. Two high-ranking pro-Beijing politicians told Reuters that the electoral reform plan, adding to the broader crackdown that has already drawn international criticism, would ultimately harm Hong Kong, potentially destroying its uniqueness, pluralism and attractive to investors. “It is really sad that Hong Kong has degenerated to this stage,” said one of the politicians, about the electoral reform. “We are handing Hong Kong over to the next generation in a worse state than the one we inherited it from.” The two pro-Beijing politicians spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the matter. It is rare for pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong to express any doubt about China’s movements, even anonymously. “Nothing is normal anymore,” said the second pro-Beijing politician. “It’s a new abnormal.” One faction that seems poised to benefit from electoral reform is the new Bauhinia Party, formed in May by Charles Wong and two other pro-Beijing businessmen born in mainland China, which is pushing for policies that Wong says will help revive Hong Kong and its leadership. “They (Beijing) never really oppose what we do,” Wong told Reuters in his 12th-floor oceanfront office last week. Wong, 56, was born in mainland China, but came to Hong Kong as a young man and is fluent in Cantonese, the local dialect. By describing himself as a “patriot,” Wong embodies China’s stated wish that Hong Kong be led at all levels by people with closer ties and sympathies with the mainland. “We are Hong Kong people,” he told Reuters. “We love Hong Kong.”