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China approves resolution to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system

Chinese President Xi Jinping claps after voting on a proposal to draft changes of election rules for Hong Kong during the closing session of the National People's Congress, at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, on Thursday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE
Chinese President Xi Jinping claps after voting on a proposal to draft changes of election rules for Hong Kong during the closing session of the National People's Congress, at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, on Thursday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

March 11 (UPI) -- In a move that is expected to attract condemnation from Western nations, China's national legislature on Thursday approved a controversial resolution to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system to allow only so-called patriots to hold office in the former British colony.

The resolution was overwhelming passed by the National People's Congress with 2,895 delegates voting in support and zero against, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.

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Chinese-state media Xinhua said the resolution consists of nine articles and that it was passed by the NPC with the intent to improve the election system in accordance with China's constitution, Hong Kong's Basic Law and a draconian national security law the congress passed last year.

The articles state that the electoral system of Hong Kong must fully implement the One, Country, Two Systems political framework it has functioned under since the city's return to China from Britain in 1997 as well as ensure its administration consists of "patriots as the main body."

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It continues that an election commission will be formed to elect Hong Kong's chief executive and that a candidate qualification review committee will be established.

Carrie Lam, the current chief executive of Hong Kong who pledged her support for the resolution last week, expressed her "sincere gratitude" to the congress for passing the resolution.

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"I firmly believe that, after the principle of 'patriots administering Hong Kong' is fully implemented and loopholes of the existing electoral system are plugged, we will be able 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," she said in a statement released after the vote referring to the city's legislative council by its common short form.

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The passing of the resolution follows Beijing imposing a national security law upon the city last summer that was widely condemned by Western nations and rights groups that said it would be the end of Hong Kong's autonomy from mainland China.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday the new law to overhaul the city's electoral system was the latest move by Beijing to "hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong."

"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," he said in a statement.

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Following China's adoption of the national security law to punish broadly defined acts of sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine national security, Britain created a pathway to citizenship for those in Hong Kong with overseas British passports and their family members.

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Despite China's claims that the law will protect the so-called One Country, Two Systems framework that provided Hong Kong with freedoms the mainland lacked, human rights groups argue the resolution will do the exact opposite.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong before it returned to China, said last week that the electoral reforms are the biggest step Beijing has taken so far "to obliterate Hong Kong's freedoms and aspirations for greater democracy."

"This completely destroys the pledge of One Country, Two System," he said in a statement. "The Chinese Communist Party has shown the world once again that it cannot be trusted. It is a continuing and brutal danger to all who believe in free and open societies."

Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Britain-based NGO Hong Kong Watch, said the reforms will permanently disenfranchise the majority of Hong Kongers.

"In Hong Kong, popular public sentiment is being replaced with totalitarianism," he said, calling on the international community to respond harshly with sanctions and suspensions of trade talks.

Ahead of the vote, U.S. congressmen of various committees related to China and Asia warned the revisions to the electoral system would tighten Beijing's grip not only on the city and its autonomy but also on fundamental human rights.

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"With these planned actions, the Chinese Communist Party is doubling down on its attempts to impose an authoritarian system on Hong Kong," Sen. Ed Markey, chairman of the East Asia subcommittee, said in a statement with seven other bipartisan politicians. "Beijing's efforts to stamp out democratic opposition in Hong Kong only underscores its own insecurities."

Chinese parliament meets in Beijing

A Chinese delegate leaves the fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

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