A candidate, a 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 troublesome subversives in Hong Kong, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States States would in future treat Hong Kong as “one country, one system” and punish them. repression of freedom in the city.

Beijing has since had its own ideas and has put forward only one candidate to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive, effective July 1.

One-candidate John Lee has been instrumental in the harsh responses to widespread protests in Hong Kong for eight years. A former police officer, Lee served as Hong Kong’s undersecretary for security from 2012 to 2017, when he was elevated 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 post of chief executive. He only needs a simple majority to win. Clearly, Beijing wants the Asian financial center to be increasingly under its control.

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

“All [chief executive] the election since 1997 has been a seam-up. But at least in the past they pretended to have a contest,” Rogers tweeted this week. “Still, this one is a prank.”

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From the arrest of pro-democracy lawmakers to changes to election law, Hong Kong has undergone 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 grip on the city-state. 30:11

The coronation, in fact, follows the December legislative elections widely criticized by international democracies.

The election was the first under new laws in which the balance of lawmakers was more heavily skewed to be controlled 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 grant a Chinese government committee the power to only allow so-called “patriots” as eligible candidates.

Following the results, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States condemned the vote, expressing their “serious concern at the erosion of democratic elements” in the electoral process as well as to the reduction of freedom of expression and assembly.

“Drastic speed” backlash

This erosion follows years of demands for greater choice in the electoral system. Pressure to elect Hong Kong’s leader by popular vote built up in 2014 during week-long “Yellow Umbrella” protests demanding that Beijing also give up the right to endorse candidates.

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

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 arrested many of them to arrest them.

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

A policeman prepares to swing his baton while restraining a protester outside the Hong Kong Legislative Council on June 10, 2019. China will follow suit by enforcing national security laws that have seen those arrested see their cases tried in courts around the continent. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

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

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

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

WATCH | Nathan Law, who has been granted political asylum, speaking to CBC in 2021:

Activist describes 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 Beijing’s crackdown. 0:29

What happens after

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

Last month, Lee published a 44-page manifesto focusing on issues such as housing and preventing the brain drain – Canada and the UK have changed immigration rules for would-be emigrants from Hong Kong. fleeing repression – but safety is also a priority.

7:37Why Hong Kongers Support Ukraine’s Freedom Fight

Kelvin Law and Ricker Choi are originally from Hong Kong and now live in Canada. Both have participated in pro-democracy protests 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, the ability for Hong Kong itself to enact laws prohibiting “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the government central popular”.

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

Whether that bid succeeds or whether the National Security Law of 2020 enacted by Beijing is still used, the difference for Hong Kongers who clash with authorities with dissent 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 suppress civil society in Hong Kong” and not just “enemies collected from the 2019 protests”. .”

This 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 dismissed two judges who had been appointed to Hong Kong’s highest court to ensure the rule of law, saying their presence was “no longer tenable” due to increasingly oppressive laws enacted by the government. China.

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