China’s National People’s Congress passes Hong Kong’s electoral reform with a high vote Observers: Beijing’s “Buyers” are in full power

The Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) officially ended its seven-day session on Thursday (March 11) and voted on and passed ten motions before closing. Among them, the “Decision of the National People’s Congress on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” was passed by 2,895 votes, and will be based on the “nine decisions” adopted, the future reform of the electoral system of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (CE) and members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).

In response, some observers from Hong Kong and Taiwan told VOA that this means Beijing has fully abandoned its commitment to Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong and deviated from the spirit of “one country, two systems”, and completely blocked the parliamentary route for Hong Kong democrats. In the future, they said, Hong Kong will still be nominally ruled by Hong Kong people, but without autonomy, because these so-called patriots will be like the “buyers” of the British Empire’s colonial era, selected by and under the orders of Beijing.

Nine decisions

According to Xinhua News Agency, the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed the “Decision of the National People’s Congress on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” on Thursday afternoon (March 11) with a high vote, and summarized nine decisions: First, to ensure “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” with patriots as the main body. Second, the Election Committee, which is responsible for nominating the Chief Executive and members of the Legislative Council, will be expanded from four sectors and 1,200 members to five sectors and 1,500 members. The 300 new seats will be filled by pro-China members of the Hong Kong National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. 3. CE candidates must be jointly nominated by not less than 188 members of the Election Committee, and not less than 15 members from each of the five sectors will participate in the nomination. Fourth, the size of the Legislative Council from the current 70 seats to 90 seats, through the election of the Election Committee, functional constituencies, direct elections in the three ways respectively. V. To establish a Candidature Commission to ensure that the qualifications of candidates for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council comply with the provisions of the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Hong Kong National Security Law, etc. 6. To authorize the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to amend the relevant laws in accordance with the decision adopted, including Annex I to the Hong Kong Basic Law on the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Annex II to the Hong Kong Basic Law on the Method for the Formation of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and its Voting Procedures. 7. To order the HKSAR to amend the relevant laws of Hong Kong and to organize and regulate the relevant electoral activities in accordance with law, in accordance with the Decision adopted and Annexes I and II to the Basic Law of the HKSAR as amended by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. 8. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong shall submit reports to the Beijing Government in a timely manner on matters relating to the electoral arrangements and the organization of elections. 9. This decision shall take effect from the date of its announcement.

In response to the nine decisions, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam then issued a statement expressing her and the SAR government’s governing team’s “unwavering support and heartfelt gratitude” for the decision. She said, “The political system is a central affair, and the electoral system is an important part of it. The Decision …… is fully constitutional and legal.”

She said, “This Time, the Central Government has taken the initiative to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system at the national level, taking into full consideration the actual situation of the HKSAR. The aim is to bring Hong Kong back to the original intention and proper track of “one country, two systems”, to fully implement the principle of patriots ruling Hong Kong from the institutional perspective, to make “one country, two systems” work steadily and far, and to help promote the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

In an interview with the Voice of America, Squire Chien-Yu, who has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years and is now a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Taiwan, said that after this change in the electoral system, Hong Kong will no longer be ruled by Hong Kong people, but will be fully controlled by Beijing.

He said, “Beijing basically does not want Hong Kong people to decide the affairs of Hong Kong, but nominally Hong Kong people are still in power, but in reality these people are selected by Beijing, completely selected by Beijing, and the autonomy of Hong Kong is reduced to a very low level.”

Balancing strategy vs. bundling strategy

According to Squire, Beijing’s strategy in Hong Kong has shifted from a pivoting strategy since the 1997 takeover to a binding strategy today.

The so-called pivoting strategy, he said, is that since 1997, Beijing has also let Hong Kong people of different factions and representing different interest groups enter the system, giving them the opportunity to balance each other within the system and let Beijing “play with” them. For example, the pro-China pro-establishment faction and the grassroots pro-democracy faction. For example, the pro-establishment camp has been divided into smaller groups or different factions, or the business elite in Hong Kong have adopted their own channels to deal with Beijing and increase their influence.

Under this strategy, Beijing plays the role of the final decision-maker, as if it were the king of the world and watching the tiger fight from the other side of the mountain. And as long as the political forces operate within the framework of “one country,” Beijing will still delegate some authority.

But Beijing has now switched to a bundling strategy, which means that Beijing selects “patriots” and then ties them to Beijing’s interests, requiring them to implement Beijing’s policies without much autonomy or authority, according to Si Jianyu. Beijing will also use these “obedient” patriots to appease various local interests or forces in Hong Kong, he said. As for Hong Kong people who are considered by Beijing as disobedient and unpatriotic, he said, they will be completely excluded from the system in the future.

Scholar: Beijing’s Buyers Rule Hong Kong

Prof. Squire said that because Hong Kong, unlike mainland cities such as Shanghai, can still hold elections, the Chinese Communist Party‘s logic is that it still has “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and considers its mode of governance to be better than the colonial governance of the British Empire. However, he said, the Hong Kong people’s representatives elected by the formal and unpopular elections in Hong Kong are like the “buyers” of the British Empire’s colonial era, who only do what they are told.

Squire said the latest electoral reform plan passed by the National People’s Congress allows Beijing to take full control of Hong Kong and exclude the so-called unpatriotic Hong Kong people through the Candidature Committee, so that even if there are more than two candidates for the Chief Executive election, both of them are Beijing’s people, Beijing’s buyers. Therefore, he said, there is absolutely no room for the democratic camp in Hong Kong to enter the government system, and they may not even be able to run for the District Council at the lowest level.

As some of the latest nine decisions adopted by the NPC on Hong Kong’s electoral system have already been reported in the Hong Kong media, Professor Squire and Ms. Emily Lau, another interviewee with the Voice of America, said they were not surprised to see the official text published.

Emily Lau, former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party and a former legislator, told VOA that the nine decisions are not just a blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, but to Hong Kong and one country, two systems in general. She said, because some Hong Kong people believe that this time, the electoral reform is not only directed at the democratic camp, but Beijing also targets some pro-China political parties and large consortia, especially property developers, and it is rumored that Beijing is also very dissatisfied with Hong Kong property developers, therefore, Beijing intends to take full control of Hong Kong.

Nine decisions to hit Hong Kong comprehensively

Emily Lau said: “Hong Kong should (henceforth) have no democratic election system, and let the people elect their representatives to the Legislative Council. If this is true, there will be no more “one country, two systems.”

Emily said Hong Kong has never had true electoral democracy, but Hong Kongers have enjoyed more freedom and personal security, and a proud rule of law environment, than some countries with regular elections for years.

But she said the Beijing government is changing many of Hong Kong’s institutions, leaving most Hong Kong people “scared, angry and worried” about the future of freedom and personal safety, and the erosion of Hong Kong’s rule of law environment.

She particularly found it difficult to understand the principle of patriots ruling Hong Kong, as she considers herself and all democrats to be patriots.

As for the future of Hong Kong, Emily said she will continue to speak out and fight for freedom for Hong Kong in a peaceful, rational and non-violent way, even if she is accused of violating the national security law and is arrested and imprisoned and loses her freedom, she said she is fearless.

Regression: No hope for universal suffrage for the Legislative Council?

In an interview with the Voice of America, Hong Kong student Guan Shan Yue, who is now studying in Taipei, said the nine decisions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) are not only aimed at the democrats, but also completely contradict the spirit of Article 68 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which stipulates that the ultimate goal of electing all members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council by universal suffrage is to be achieved.

He said, “It’s not a step backward for the democrats alone, or for Hong Kong people who support democracy, it’s a complete disregard for one country, two systems, and a total lack of respect for the Basic Law.”

Kwan said the Chinese Communist Party has abused Hong Kong’s own mechanisms and used the electoral transformation to ensure that more Hong Kong people who defend Beijing’s rights can enter Hong Kong’s governing system. He said the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s own mechanism was unfair to the democrats and was already high in defending Beijing’s rights and representation. But now, he said, Hong Kong has been “fully governed” by Beijing, and one country, two systems is no longer in place. And the new mechanism for vetting candidates will make it more difficult for the pro-democracy camp to take the parliamentary route within the system in the future. He said, including the more conservative pan-democrats may no longer be able to run for election or enter the parliament, and influence the government’s administration.