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China moves to tighten control over Hong Kong's electoral system

China's ceremonial legislature on Thursday endorsed the Communist Party's latest move to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the role of its public in picking the region's leaders.

Pro-Beijing committee could pick one-third of region's lawmakers, say Hong Kong reports

Chinese President Xi Jinping, third from right in bottom row, and other leaders and delegates stand for the Chinese national anthem during the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on Wednesday. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

China's ceremonial legislature on Thursday endorsed the Communist Party's latest move to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the role of its public in picking the region's leaders.

The measure adds to a crackdown against protests in Hong Kong since 2019 calling for greater democracy. That has prompted complaints Beijing is eroding the autonomy promised when Hong Kong return to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a global financial centre.

Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong has added to irritants in relations with Washington, Europe and other governments that also include trade, technology and the party's treatment of ethnic minorities.

The National People's Congress voted 2,895-0, with one abstention, to endorse changes that would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong's lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Delegates routinely endorse party plans by unanimous vote or overwhelming majorities.

President Xi Jinping and other party leaders sat on stage in front of delegates as they cast votes electronically. The NPC has no real powers but the party uses its brief annual meeting, the year's highest-profile political event, to showcase major initiatives.

The changes in Hong Kong would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of its lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Details have yet to be announced, but Hong Kong news reports say the committee might pick one-third of lawmakers.

The mainland government has rejected complaints it is eroding Hong Kong's autonomy and says the changes are necessary to protect the region's stability.

'It's not democracy': Hong Kong Democrat

Under the changes in Hong Kong, a 1,500-member Election Committee will pick the territory's chief executive and an unspecified "relatively large" number of members of its 90-seat legislature.

Committee members would come from five segments of society, including business and political figures. That would give pro-Beijing forces more influence than a popular vote would. Hong Kong news reports said earlier the committee will pick one-third of the members of the Legislative Council, or LegCo.

Supporters of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion wave mobile phone lights outside a court in Hong Kong on March 5. Four of the 47 activists were released on bail that day. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Beijing wants to see "patriots ruling Hong Kong," Premier Li Keqiang said. He said the changes would "safeguard national security" in the territory and support "prosperity and stability."

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam welcomed the change and said in a statement it will allow the territory to "resolve the problem of the LegCo making everything political in recent years and effectively deal with the reckless moves or internal rift that have torn Hong Kong apart."

Last year, the party used the NPC session to impose a national security law on Hong Kong in response to the protests that began in 2019. Under that law, 47 former legislators and other pro-democracy figures have been arrested on subversion charges that carry a possible maximum penalty of life in prison.

"The Hong Kong people will be disenfranchised" under the latest changes, said Emily Lau, a former Hong Kong legislator and a member of the city's Democratic Party.

"Beijing wants to exert very tight control. It's not democracy."

Lau said concerns expressed by some Chinese officials about a possible attempt to overthrow the government are overblown.

"Hong Kong people are not going to have independence or overthrow the government. No way," she said. "What they should do is engage, listen to the voices of Hong Kong people so we can have a dialogue and reach a consensus on how to move forward, instead of just coming down on us like a ton of bricks."

WATCH | Beijing changes Hong Kong election laws:

China changes election rules in Hong Kong to quash dissent

The National

3 months ago
2:05
China is changing election rules in Hong Kong to prevent political dissent in the city where protesters have been vocal about Beijing slowly eroding their freedoms. 2:05

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said the move is "contrary to the promises made by China itself" about Hong Kong. He said Beijing is trying to "hollow out" space for democratic debate.

"This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations, as a leading member of the international community," Raab said in a statement.

Also Thursday, the NPC endorsed the ruling party's latest five-year development blueprint. It calls for stepping up efforts to transform China into a more self-reliant technology creator — a move that threatens to worsen strains with Washington and Europe over trade and market access.

Last year, the party used the NPC session to impose a national security law on Hong Kong in response to the protests that began in 2019. Under that law, 47 former legislators and other pro-democracy figures have been arrested on subversion charges that carry a possible maximum penalty of life in prison.

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