Beijing requires ‘patriotism’ for Hong Kong lawmakers: report

China passed a measure requiring Hong Kong lawmakers to be “patriots,” the South China Morning Post reported, a move to curb debate in a democratic institution that has endured more than two decades after the former British colony’s return.
China’s top legislative body approved the provision to make patriotism a requirement for Hong Kong lawmakers behind closed doors Wednesday in Beijing, the newspaper reported, citing a person it didn’t identify. Earlier reports about the proposal have alarmed the 20 opposition lawmakers on the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council, with the bloc threatening Monday to resign if any of their own were disqualified.
The resolution passed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee gives the Hong Kong government power to disqualify lawmakers without going through the courts, SCMP said, citing two other unidentified people. The local government was expected to immediately move to oust four opposition politicians – Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung– the Sing Tao Daily newspaper reported separately, without saying where it got the information.
“Those who do not get DQ’d will tender their resignations,” Yeung said by text after the SCMP report was published.
Chinese authorities have so far said nothing about the measure. Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, declined to respond to what he dismissed as “speculative” media reports. “We have nothing to offer, nothing to comment,” Cheung told a briefing yesterday.
The resolution would be the latest sign of China’s determination to rein in dissent in the wake of anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong last year. Beijing bypassed the Legislative Council to impose controversial national security legislation in June, causing the Group of Seven nations to accuse China of violating the terms of its handover agreement with the U.K. and prompting the Trump administration to sanction more than a dozen senior officials who oversee the city.
A mass resignation would highlight international concerns about China’s human rights practices just as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on a promise to defend democratic values around the world. He has vowed to “fully enforce” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act signed by Trump last year.
“There isn’t a clear definition on patriotism for the Chinese Communist Party,” Dongshu Liu, associate professor of Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong, said this week. “Whenever they need an excuse to disqualify or attack their opponents, they can use patriotism.”
The ability to purge opposition lawmakers would make it easier to control the Legislative Council if they win an unprecedented majority in elections that the government has postponed – citing coronavirus concerns – over the protests of democracy advocates.
“It seems like those in power cannot tolerate opposition anymore,” Dennis Kwok told a news conference Monday. He called it a “serious departure from the original spirit” of China’s promise to retain Hong Kong’s liberal institutions and capitalist economy under a “one country, two systems” framework.
The move will raise new questions about the future of the legislature, perhaps the most high-profile platform for open debate left under Beijing’s rule. After several radical “localist” activists were among a record 29 opposition lawmakers elected in 2016, China handed down a ruling that led to the disqualification of a half dozen lawmakers.
Several remaining lawmakers are also facing criminal charges related to various protests against the government, including seven charged in recent months with participating in a May scuffle at the Legislative Council. Nick Or, an assistant professor of public policy at the CityU, warned that the Hong Kong government risked losing its legitimacy by limiting legislative debate.
“The Hong Kong government may be able to get a rubber stamp, but it is not necessarily a good thing if their proposals are unchallenged,” Or said. “It does not do any good for building up good governance in Hong Kong.” Karen Leigh, Kari Lindberg & Alfred Liu, Bloomberg

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