China turns its back on Hong Kong loyalists

China’s staunchest supporters in Hong Kong say they have been left out of decisions regarding changes to the territory’s electoral system.

Analysts said this was due to Beijing’s frustration with the city’s elite inability to quell anti-government sentiment in the city that exploded during pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Beijing has traditionally relied on a loose network of pro-Chinese lawmakers, tycoons and advisers to its parliament to help rule Hong Kong, wire its messages and serve as a sounding board for new ideas before they hit. are deployed.

But Chinese officials are making sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system without consulting many of the city’s loyalists. Instead, Beijing turned to its newly settled mainland representatives in the city and selected older politicians for advice.

The changes, under which Beijing will further increase its control over who qualifies to be a lawmaker in Hong Kong through a new control system, were announced at the week-long annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. . At the opening session on Friday, Wang Chen, an AFN vice president, said Hong Kong’s electoral system presented “loopholes and loopholes” that could allow “anti-Chinese forces” to take over. control of the city.

Regina Ip, a staunch pro-government lawmaker who recently backed China’s internationally condemned Xinjiang policy, hinted that it was irrelevant and that Beijing was changing who it listens to.

“I am not aware of any thoughts on the part of officials in Beijing. . . maybe they consulted the best, most trusted advisers, ”Ip told the Financial Times. “The old consultation strategy [with Hong Kong elites] did not end well, it did not produce the results that Beijing wanted.

An executive board member who advises Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, said he didn’t think any board member saw a plan for the reforms a month before their announcement.

A pro-establishment lawmaker said he and many of his colleagues were excluded from a symposium in Shenzhen in February on electoral changes, attended by new officials, “old guard” politicians such as Rita Fan, a former representative in the Chinese legislature. , and a few businessmen.

“What the central government is determined to create are not rubber stamps or loyal garbage, but righteous patriots,” wrote Tian Feilong, director of the China Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies – a semi-official think tank on the mainland in Beijing – in Ming Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper.

In his first major intervention since taking office, Xia Baolong, the Beijing bureau chief who oversees Hong Kong and Macau, said the central government should take charge of the changes, rather than Hong Kong officials.

The reforms would strengthen Beijing’s already important role in Hong Kong politics. China can already determine who is elected chief executive because the candidate is chosen by a committee heavily weighted in favor of the pro-Beijing camp of the financial center and the tycoons who have traditionally backed the government.

Opposition parties had at least a chance of winning a majority in the city’s legislature, but authorities have disqualified or are prosecuting opposition politicians.

Ho-Fung Hung, professor at Johns Hopkins University, said China did not want to take the “slightest chance” that the elections did not go their way

“[The Chinese government] are not sure they have full control of the elite [and] Beijing does not fully trust the election committee tycoons after 2019, ”said Hung, referring to pro-democracy protests that year.

The city was promised a high degree of autonomy upon the transfer from the United Kingdom in 1997. Electoral changes, however, would increase the pace of Beijing’s direct interventions in Hong Kong affairs, which began with the imposition of a tough national security law last year.

Jasper Tsang, a founding member of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political party, said the last time he was consulted by Chinese officials was after the law was introduced. “I am not sure of the difference [the consultation] done, ”he said.

CY Leung, former managing director of Hong Kong and vice chairman of the mainland’s main political advisory body, is one of China’s most vocal advocates in the territory, but said he had not attended any sessions. official consultation on electoral reforms.

Taken by surprise by the force of pro-democracy protests in 2019, Beijing expressed its displeasure at the lack of warning from replacement of officials who represented the central government of the city.

Some of its new members are known to have reshuffled the wayward provinces. Luo HuiningThe new head of the Beijing Central Liaison Office has rooted out corrupt officials in Shanxi Province.

Two pro-Beijing politicians from Hong Kong told the FT that mainland officials appointed to the liaison office were keeping a distance from the city’s traditional elites.

“I think Beijing would like to have new blood,” said Lau Siu-kai of the China Association for Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

To this end, China has expanded its official presence in the city with a new Department of National Security Hong Kong Island based office. “[Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader] will govern day to day, but the office is like a big brother with its arm around its shoulder, ”a government official said.

Leung suggested that Hong Kong lawmakers and elites should accept Beijing’s greater role in city affairs. “[Hong Kong] is local government after all, ”he said. “We are not Singapore.”

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