China to form small group to vet Hong Kong elections: SCMP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Chinese lawmakers plan to put fewer than 10 people – all chosen by national security officials – on a committee to vet any candidates for top elected positions in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported.

The report said vetting committee members would be chosen by Beijing’s National Security Office in Hong Kong as well as the Committee for Safeguarding National Security chaired by the territory’s chief executive – two bodies created under a sweeping national security law imposed last year.

The changes are expected to be unveiled later Tuesday (March 30) when the National People’s Congress Standing Committee wraps up a meeting to finalise the details of sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system approved by China’s legislature on March 12.

That decision called for a “review committee” to vet qualifications of candidates for office to ensure they are all patriots loyal to the Communist Party in Beijing.

The moves are the latest in China’s efforts to ensure that pro-democracy voices don’t have a path to obtain power in Hong Kong following historic and sometimes-violent protests in 2019.

The US, UK, Japan and the European Union have all condemned China’s moves, with the Biden administration this month tightening sanctions imposed last year by Donald Trump against key officials.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called the recent overhaul of the city’s electoral system a “direct attack” on the autonomy China promised to Hong Kong, while UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the “radical changes” constitute another breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has dismissed Western criticism and stepped up opposition to any organisation deemed to be “interfering” in its “internal matters”.

The Communist Party of China last week backed calls to boycott retailers such as Sweden’s Hennes & Mauritz AB for expressing concern about reports of forced labour in the far west region of Xinjiang.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for “patriots” to run the former British colony has neutered the country’s democratic institutions while local authorities prosecute activists who have voiced opposition to the Communist Party.

The Legislative Council’s entire pro-democracy bloc resigned en masse last year in protest against efforts to curb dissent, and dozens of former lawmakers and top protest leaders have been jailed on national security charges.

Besides establishing a “review committee” to vet candidates, Chinese authorities also plan to expand the membership of the body that picks the chief executive by 300 people to a total of 1,500 members.

Once the details of Hong Kong’s electoral changes are made clear, the local government will have to enact more than 20 pieces of legislation to adopt them, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

That should be completed by the end of May, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, told local media in mid-March.

Hong Kong’s government will focus on economic development and address housing issues once the overhaul is completed, according to Zhang Xiaoming, a senior official for Hong Kong affairs in Beijing.

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