GP Insights # 440, 15 November 2020
On 11 November, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution, giving the Hong Kong authorities the power to disqualify any "unpatriotic" member. With an immediate effect, four pro-democracy lawmakers - Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-Ki, Kenneth Leung and Alvin Yeung - from Hong Kong's legislative council were disqualified for "endangering national security". Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said that the disqualifications were "constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary" for the country. On the same afternoon, fifteen members of the opposition stepped out in solidarity chanting "Hong Kong add oil, together we stand".
On 12 November, all 15 opposition lawmakers resigned in opposition to the regulation, leaving the council in full control of the pro-Beijing lawmakers.
What is the background?
First, China's increasing clampdown since the imposition of national security law. This law aims to punish anything considered by the authorities to be subversion, secessionism, terrorism, and collusion. Soon after the law was passed, seven pro-democratic politicians were arrested on charges of 'contempt' and 'interfering' with the city legislative council. The law has severely curtailed freedom of speech and expression.
Second, the domestic response to the Hong Kong administration's recent moves. On 5 November, when the Hong Kong police unveiled a dedicated hotline for residents to report alleged national security threats, it received more than a thousand tips from the public via text messages, emails, pictures, audios, and video files within hours going live. Regarding the disqualification, the reaction from the opposition has been sharp. Dennis Kwok, one of the disqualified pro-democracy lawmaker, said: "In terms of legality and constitutionality, obviously from our point of view this is clearly in breach of the Basic Law and our rights to participate in public affairs, and a failure to observe the due process".
Third, the international response. Disqualification of lawmakers has been highly criticized internationally. The US National Security Advisor accused China of having "flagrantly violated" its international commitments and threatened to impose sanctions. The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said the removal of the pro-democracy legislators represented "a further assault on Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and freedom under the UK-China joint declaration". Amnesty International said that the disqualification was "yet another example of Beijing's attempt to silence dissent". Responding to the critical comments, Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said, "the issue of the eligibility of members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, is purely an internal affair of China. Other countries have no right to comment on it or interfere in it."
What does it mean?
First, there no relaxation or respite from China in Hong Kong. Instead, Beijing is increasingly tightening its hold over the latter. By not respecting the basic law, and by using disqualification to bypass the electoral mandate, China is moving towards ending the 'one country two systems' arrangement. Absence of opposition voices in the Legislative Council would mean those passing pro-Beijing laws would become easier for Lam's administration.
Second, more than a year after protests started in Hong Kong, it is clear that the protestors have lost out; the resistance of young protestors has also weakened in the last few months.