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China approves Hong Kong electoral overhaul

Chinese President Xi Jinping is applauded by top leaders as he arrives for the closing Fourth Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) being held in the Great Hall of the People In Beijing on March 11 when a draft decision to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system was approved. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Chinese President Xi Jinping is applauded by top leaders as he arrives for the closing Fourth Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) being held in the Great Hall of the People In Beijing on March 11 when a draft decision to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system was approved. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 30 (UPI) -- China's top legislature on Tuesday unanimously approved controversial and sweeping amendments to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system to reduced the former British colony's number of elected officials.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported the rubber-stamp Standing Committee of the National People's Congress approved the two amendments 167-0 and were promulgated by President XI Jinping.

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The first amendment reduces the number of elected officials in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, known as LegCo, from 35 to 20 while allotting the city's chief executive to appoint 40 members with another 30 to be filled by trade representatives. Overall, the number of seats grows from 70 to 90. National security police will also run background checks on candidates to ensure they will uphold Hong Kong's mini-constitution.

The second amendment bolsters the Beijing-controlled Election Committee by 300 members to 1,500, which has been responsible for electing the city's chief executive.

Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong's lone delegate on the standing committee and a Beijing supporter, said in a video the alteration of the Election Committee was done to "depoliticize" the advisory board and to prevent it from being infiltrated by "anti-Chinese forces," the Hong Kong Free Press reported.

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After the committee approved the amendments, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated her support for them, stating their purpose is to improve the city's electoral system to ensure so-called patriots are administering Hong Kong.

Asked if anyone could still run, she said they can as long as they pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and its One Country, Two Systems governmental framework it has functioned under since returning to Beijing rule in 1997 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

"For people who hold different political beliefs, who are more inclined toward more democracy, or who are more conservative, who belong to the left or belong to the right, as long as they meet this very fundamental and basic requirement, I don't see why they could not run for election," she said.

However, Western nations and human rights activists accuse China of having trampled the One Country, Two Systems ideal with this legislation.

"The details of Beijing's electoral reforms for Hong Kong have been announced and it's clear that this is the end of the city's democratic dream," Hong Kong Watch said in a statement on Tuesday. "Less than a quarter of LegCo seats will be democratically elected and every candidate will be pre-screened."

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The amendments were approved Tuesday after they were unanimously passed by the National People's Congress earlier this month, inciting the anger of Western leaders and human rights activities with Britain saying that the decision made China no longer compliant with their Sino-British Joint Agreement.

"This is part of a pattern designed to harass and stifle all voices critical of China's policies and is the third breach of the Joint Declaration in less than nine months," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong before it returned to China, said after the amendments were announced earlier this month that the overhaul "destroys" the governmental framework that promised the city at least 50 years of autonomy from the mainland.

"The Chinese Communist Party has shown the world once again that it cannot be trusted," Patten wrote in a statement. "It is a continuing and brutal danger to all who believe in free and open societies."

The move Tuesday is expected to further fray relations with the Western world as the United States and other nations have imposed punitive sanctions against China over its treatment of Hong Kong.

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After the amendments were passed by the National People's Congress, the U.S. State Department sanctioned 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials it accused of undermining the city's autonomy.

The amendments follow Beijing imposing a draconian national security law upon Hong Kong in response to mass pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for about a year in 2019.

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