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China Says It Will Select Hong Kong Legislators

A TV screen broadcasts the news of the opening session of China's National People's Congress in Hong Kong, March 5, 2021, that will also elect some members of the city's legislature, as part of Beijing's planned revamp of Hong Kong's electoral system.

A senior Chinese official said Friday that a pro-Beijing committee will choose members of Hong Kong’s legislature as part of a campaign to increase China’s control over the city.

The vice chairman of the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, Wang Chen, said in Beijing the panel would participate in nominating candidates and select “a relatively large share” of the legislature’s members.

He did not say how many lawmakers the committee would select, but Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that anonymous sources said they would fill 30 of the expanded legislature’s 90 seats.

Half of Hong Kong’s 70-member Legislative Council is currently elected by voters, while the other half is elected by professional or special interest groups.

Blow to democracy

The move is seen as a significant blow to democracy by observers and some residents of the semi-autonomous territory that enjoys greater freedom than mainland China but has seen rights sharply curtailed in the past year.

Democracy supporters say China’s increasing control over Hong Kong’s political system violates its promise to grant 50 years of autonomy to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” structure that was implemented in 1997 when the British handed over the city to China.

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, said the move to alter the city’s electoral system “completely destroys the pledge of one country, two systems.”

Activists detained

Wang’s announcement was made one day after a Hong Kong judge ordered 47 pro-democracy activists to remain in custody after the territory’s Department of Justice appealed an earlier decision to release 15 of them on bail.

The order came after four days of bail hearings for activists facing charges under a stringent national security law imposed by China, sparking global concern that Beijing is using the law to suppress dissent.

Adoption of the security law in June 2020 led to a harsh crackdown on free speech and opposition political activity in Hong Kong. Serious offenders of the law could face life imprisonment.

The activists were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, a criminal offense under the law.

They were arrested on Sunday over their participation in an unofficial primary election in 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the Hong Kong government.

The election was supposed to produce the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council. The government postponed the election, citing the coronavirus pandemic.