11 March 2021   Leave a comment

The Chinese legislature has passed an electoral reform law that effectively ends the political independence of the city of Hong Kong. Since 1984 the city, which was a British colony since the end of the First Opium War in 1842, has been ruled by an agreement between Britain and China which was called “One Country, Two Systems“. That agreement was supposed to ensure that the political freedoms enjoyed under British rule would continue to 2047. The new legislation ends that possibility. The US State Department issued a statement by the Secretary of State Blinken:

“The United States condemns the PRC’s continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong.  The National People’s Congress decision today to unilaterally change Hong Kong’s electoral system is a direct attack on autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.  These actions deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate.  Beijing’s actions also run counter to the Basic Law’s clear acknowledgment that Hong Kong elections should progress towards universal suffrage.

“We call on the PRC to uphold its international obligations and commitments and to act consistently with Hong Kong’s Basic Law.  The PRC’s attempt to label its crackdown on Hong Kong as an “internal matter” ignores the commitments Beijing made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to uphold Hong Kong’s autonomy and enumerated rights and freedoms until at least 2047.”

This is probably a necessary statement to make but it rings hollow. There is little to nothing the US or the rest of the world can do to resurrect the British/Chinese agreement. The BBC reports: “In late 2019, the democrats won a landslide in Hong Kong’s local elections, the city’s only truly democratic ballot. That may have spooked Beijing more than barricades and petrol bombs. But is its victory now complete? ‘It is very sad,” the former Democratic Party chairperson Emily Lau told me. “But I insist this doesn’t mean the game is over for Hong Kong because the fight will go on.'” But the legislation is clearly designed to make sure that only “patriots” will be allowed to govern Hong Kong, and those patriots are defined by their allegiance to Beijing.

The Global Times, a reliable mouthpiece for the Chinese government, assessed the change in these terms:

“The NPC’s decision is a fundamental solution to ending Hong Kong’s chaos and is widely supported by Chinese society. It is not just to keep the extreme opposition out of Hong Kong’s system. It also proposes a system for selecting and appointing talent and is committed to making the nominees and elected candidates more representative. This is a system not only designed to end chaos, but also aimed to promote development in the city.

“Perhaps everyone would agree that Hong Kong will have no future if chaos continues like the previous two years. The US and the UK try to rope Hong Kong into their camp politically and turn the city into a chess piece to contain China. This is unacceptable. The NPC’s decision is a firm response to the US and the UK’s arrogant goals.”

Needless to say, the decision has sent shock waves to Taiwan which fears a similar takeover by Beijing. The Taiwan News characterizes the decision in these terms:

“The new resolution, passed on Thursday with 2,895 votes in favor, 0 against and one abstention, stipulates that all candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, as well as candidates for the chief executive, will be screened for attitudes and approved by the same Beijing-friendly commission.

“This is to ensure that all candidates for office are ‘patriots.’ To pick up on the propaganda’s choice of words, ‘people who love the country rule Hong Kong.’ So not those who love Hong Kong, but the autocracy.

“From Beijing’s standpoint, opposition parties from the pro-democratic camp do not belong to the patriots.

“After all, they criticize the Hong Kong administration’s obedience to Beijing authorities and demand the right to general, free elections in accordance with the Basic Law.

“Beijing wants to turn the Hong Kong City Parliament into a rubber-stamp legislature like the National People’s Congress. Before the 1997 handover, China had promised to guarantee the rule of law in Hong Kong, but not to give way about who makes the laws.”

It is more than likely that there are many in Hong Kong who oppose the decision. We shall have to see whether that opposition decides to protest it. Opposition would be dangerous and unlikely to succeed. But the loss of political freedom will be a terrible price to pay.

Posted March 11, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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