Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 10 November 2020



Hong Kong Opposition to Quit as China Moves to Quash Dissent

Updated on 
  • China imposes patriotism test for territory’s lawmakers
  • One of Beijing’s strongest moves yet to stifle dissent in city
Dennis Kwok, from left,  Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Dennis Kwok, from left, Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg

Hong Kong’s opposition bloc planned to resign on Wednesday after China moved to disqualify unpatriotic lawmakers, one of Beijing’s strongest moves yet to quash dissent in the territory.

More than a dozen members of the pro-democracy camp of the 70-seat Legislative Council will quit at a press conference later Wednesday following the disqualification of four members under Beijing’s new rules, democratic politician Fernando Cheung said by phone.

“This move makes it clear that dictatorship has descended on to Hong Kong and that Chinese Communist Party can eradicate all opposing voices in the legislature,” Cheung said. “There’s no more separation of powers, no more ‘one country, two systems,’ and therefore no more Hong Kong as we know it.”

China’s top legislative body earlier passed a measure requiring Hong Kong lawmakers to be patriots, curbing debate in a democratic institution that has endured more than two decades after the former British colony’s return. The decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is “conducive to the long-term peace and stability, as well as prosperity and development of Hong Kong,” Chairman Li Zhanshu said at the close of its two-day meeting.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam endorsed the decision on Wednesday, saying it would be a “blatant deviance” from the Basic Law that governs the territory if lawmakers that violated their oaths stayed in office. Hong Kong planned to introduce legislation to formalize the process and spell out legal consequences for violators, Lam said.

The resolution is 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” legislation signed by President Donald Trump that punishes Beijing for eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The ability to purge opposition lawmakers would make it easier for Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed politicians 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.

The move by Beijing will demolish any opposition in the legislature and allow the Hong Kong government to ram through even more restrictive measures in the coming years, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

‘Nasty Things’

“The situation is quite clear in Hong Kong that Beijing is trying to eradicate any political opposition, whether it’s the moderate or the radical wing,” Choy said. “In the next two years, I think they’ll do even more nasty things to strengthen their draconian rule.”

The disqualified lawmakers on Wednesday were Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, Hong Kong’s government said in a statement.

“It’d be hard for us and myself today to admit that is not the hardest or the saddest day for Hong Kong,” Kwok Ka-ki said as opposition members briefed Wednesday. “The people of Hong Kong should not give up. We can’t give up.”

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.”

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