China signals action to block criticism of Hong Kong election

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Chinese state media called for action to prevent Hong Kong election from becoming a “tool for anti-Chinese and unrest forces”, raising prospects for further measures to curb dissent in the Asian financial hub .

People’s Daily, a spokesperson for the ruling Communist Party, said in a comment Tuesday that those found to be disloyal should not be allowed to run for office. Action could come as early as next week, with the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – the body that imposed a controversial security law in Hong Kong last year – also announcing a surprise meeting from January 20.

“Hong Kong is an administrative region of China,” the People’s Daily said. “Those who love the country and love Hong Kong should rule Hong Kong, those who are anti-Chinese and troublemakers are out” is a principle and a bottom line that elections in Hong Kong must follow. “

The comment suggests that China’s efforts to contain opposition it blames for a wave of historic and sometimes violent protests in 2019 are far from over. In addition to imposing the security law in June, authorities have expelled many candidates from office, arrested several former lawmakers and delayed an election scheduled for September.

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All opposition lawmakers resigned from the local Legislative Council to protest the actions. Earlier this month, the new Hong Kong Police National Security Unit arrested 55 people in an unofficial primary to choose candidates for the delayed election, an incident cited by the People’s Daily commentary as reason for action.

China’s actions have drawn international condemnation, and the UK and US have accused Beijing of violating its treaty obligations to preserve liberal institutions, such as parliamentary elections, in the former British colony. The AFN Standing Committee meeting will begin the same day US President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated as president on a platform to preserve democracies around the world.

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Chinese leaders are considering an overhaul of the election committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, the South China Morning Post reported last month. Authorities were planning to reduce the already limited influence that democracy advocates wield over a panel controlled by pro-Chinese loyalists, with candidates requiring approval from Beijing, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong media also reported that the Chinese legislature may decide to disqualify some pro-democracy district councilors, many of whom took office after a landslide victory in 2019 following the historic protests. Opposition politicians had previously hoped to use this momentum to achieve a majority in the most important Legislative Council before the elections were postponed for a year, apparently due to the risks of coronavirus.

State media reports on the next AFN meeting made no mention of Hong Kong, with a proposed revised animal epidemic prevention law on the agenda. Yet the body has already announced a debate on Hong Kong-related issues at the last minute, such as when it passed and approved the National Security Law behind closed doors, without a local debate.

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More recently, the body ruled that the Hong Kong government can expel Legislators from the Legislative Council deemed insufficiently patriotic, a move that led to the mass resignation of the remaining opposition members. It is also possible that the committee will use next week’s meeting to clarify aspects of the national security law, which Hong Kong lawyers, foreign governments and human rights groups have called vague and open to interpretation.

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