March 5 (UPI) -- China warned against interference in Hong Kong on the first day of the 13th National People's Congress, as Beijing moves to increase election controls in the former British colony.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Friday before nearly 3,000 delegates that he will remain "faithful to the spirit of the principle of the one-country system that governs Hong Kong and Macau, which enjoy a high degree of autonomy."
Li also claimed the "long-term prosperity and stability" of the special administrative regions will be made possible by Beijing's support for "the people's livelihoods and their well-being."
Delegates gathered at China's National People's Congress were seen not wearing masks as Li also addressed COVID-19.
Li said China had attained a "major strategic achievement" in the battle against the novel coronavirus, and that the country is expected to achieve a 6% annual growth rate in 2021.
Other officials condemned the pro-democracy movements that began in 2019.
Wang Chen, vice chairman of the Congress, said the "rioting and turbulence that occurred in Hong Kong society reveals that the existing electoral system has clear loopholes and deficiencies," the BBC reported Friday.
"The criteria for a patriot are to respect one's own nation," Wang said, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
China is seeking to reduce the presence of opposition politicians in a committee that selects Hong Kong's chief executive.
Wang is reportedly seeking to expand the powers of the committee so it may also be able to elect Hong Kong's Legislative Council members directly. The electoral system already is heavily pro-Beijing, according to HKFP.
Chinese moves to reduce Hong Kong's political autonomy have been met with disapproval from the international community.
Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong, condemned recent developments and said China's Communist Party has "taken the biggest step so far to obliterate Hong Kong's freedoms and aspirations for greater democracy under the rule of law".
China initially agreed with Britain to allow Hong Kong to operate independently and protect free speech. Free speech recently came under fire from Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam.