One candidate, one system? China leaves nothing to chance in installing Hong Kong’s next leader

When China announced a new national security law in 2020 to deal with what it saw as problematic subversives from Hong Kong, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that in future the United States would treat Hong Kong as “a country, a system” and would punish those by suppressing freedom in the city.

Beijing has had its own ideas ever since, offering a single candidate to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive, effective July 1.

Sole candidate John Lee was instrumental in harsh responses to widespread protests in Hong Kong dating back eight years. A former police officer, Lee was deputy secretary for security in Hong Kong from 2012 to 2017, when he was promoted to secretary for the next four years.

The election committee made up of a cross-section of Chinese officials has already endorsed Lee for the CEO post. He only needs a simple majority to win. Clearly, Beijing wants the Asian financial center to come under its influence more and more.

The selection process for candidates to compete for Hong Kong’s leadership has always been opaque and designed to ensure that Hong Kong residents are only selected from applicants approved by Beijing. But Benedict Rogers, the British co-founder and executive director of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch, said this year’s process represented a new low.

“Everyone [chief executive] election since 1997 has been a patchwork. But at least in the past they have pretended to have a contest,” Rogers tweeted this week. “However, this is a farce.”

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From the arrest of pro-democracy lawmakers to changes in electoral law, Hong Kong has seen extraordinary changes after the implementation of Beijing’s national security law. Two pro-democracy activists, who recently fled to Canada, reflect on China’s tightening control over the city-state. 30:11

The coronation, in effect, follows legislative council elections in December, widely criticized by international democracies.

The election was the first under new laws in which the balance of lawmakers was skewed more to control from Beijing. The number of lawmakers directly elected by Hong Kong residents was reduced from 35 to 20, while the body was expanded from 70 to 90 seats.

The new laws also give a Chinese government committee the power to allow only so-called “patriots” as eligible candidates.

After the results, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US condemned the vote and expressed “serious concern about the erosion of democratic elements” in the electoral process, as well as retaliation against freedom of expression. and meeting.

‘Drastic speed’ backlash

That erosion followed years of clamor for more choice in the electoral system. A push to elect Hong Kong’s leader by popular vote built up in 2014 in weeks-long “Yellow Umbrella” protests that demanded that Beijing also give up the right to approve candidates.

Several activists involved in those protests, including Nathan Law, were elected to the Hong Kong legislative council two years later. They angered Communist Party officials during their swearing-in ceremonies by continuing to protest what they saw as Beijing’s interference.

In 2019, massive pro-democracy protests often turned into violent clashes. As security secretary, Lee led the campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, then rounded up many of them to arrest them.

The intensity of the 2019 protests appeared to have taken Beijing by surprise, prompting the imposition of the national security law the following year and the reshuffling of the legislature.

A police officer prepares to swing his baton as he restrains a protester outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 10, 2019. China would continue to enforce national security laws that saw the cases of those arrested adjudicated in the mainland courts. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

The set of changes amended the Basic Law, the constitution that has governed Hong Kong since the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that promised semi-autonomy for 50 years.

More than 150 activists and others have been arrested since the national security law was imposed. Prominent youth activist Joshua Wong, as well as Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, are among those jailed.

“All our freedoms vanished [at] a drastic speed that none of us could have expected,” activist Nathan Law said in an interview with CBC News last year from London, where he lived.

CLOCK | Nathan Law, who was granted political asylum, speaks to the CBC in 2021:

Activist describes the deterioration of democracy in Hong Kong

Former opposition politician Nathan Law describes the erosion of democratic rights in Hong Kong. Law, 27, was forced to flee after the Beijing crackdown. 0:29

What comes next

Former MP and Democratic Party member Emily Lau called it a “very sad day” when changes to election laws were pushed through, but the crackdown could possibly worsen now.

Lee published a 44-page manifesto last month that focused on issues such as housing and preventing the brain drain (Canada and the UK have changed immigration rules for would-be Hong Kong migrants fleeing a crackdown). ), but security is also a priority.

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Kelvin Law and Ricker Choi are originally from Hong Kong and now live in Canada. Both participated in pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong and now support Ukraine in Toronto. 7:37

Lee promised to codify what had been included in Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s own ability to enact laws to prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government.”

An attempt by Hong Kong authorities to do so in 2003 met with fierce resistance, but given the crackdown in recent years, it may be silenced next time.

Whether that bid succeeds or the 2020 national security law enacted by Beijing continues to be used, the difference for Hongkongers clashing with dissident authorities may be imperceptible.

Tom Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law in Washington, DC, predicted in a recent social media post that under Lee, Chinese authorities would continue to “repress civil society in Hong Kong” and not just as “perceived enemies of the 2019 protests”. .”

That could come at the expense of Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place to do business, with a clear regulatory regime and an independent judiciary. Britain has sacked two judges who had been appointed to Hong Kong’s high court to ensure the rule of law, saying their presence was “no longer tenable” due to increasingly oppressive laws enacted by China.

Lee, who will succeed Carrie Lam as chief executive, acknowledged Friday that Hong Kong has deep-seated problems. She vowed to “consolidate Hong Kong as an international city, to develop Hong Kong’s potential as a free and open society.”

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