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HK district councils 'for patriots only'

Beijing's liaison office chief says Hong Kong bodies should not be 'hijacked, manipulated or paralyzed' by activists again

Zheng Yanxiong, the director of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong, speaks during a seminar in this undated image

Zheng Yanxiong, the director of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong, speaks during a seminar in this undated image. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 02, 2023 06:37 AM GMT

Updated: November 02, 2023 09:52 AM GMT

Hong Kong’s district councils must be formed by “patriots only” to prevent them from being “hijacked, manipulated or paralyzed” again, according to a top Beijing official.

Hong Kong should “completely remove the soil for color revolution,” Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported Zheng Yanxiong, director of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong as saying while addressing a seminar on district governance on Oct. 31.

“The first principle of enhancing district governance in Hong Kong is to fully implement the principle of patriots ruling Hong Kong in the district council elections,” Zheng said.

Zheng also emphasized the need “to completely end ... anti-China and anti-Hong Kong disruptors entering the governance framework of the special administrative region through elections.”  

The seminar hosted by the Hong Kong administration was organized just a day after the closure of the two-week nomination period for the district council elections scheduled for December.

Pro-democracy opposition parties have been shut out of the elections after their candidates could not secure approval to compete for 88 seats open for public voting.

Reportedly, the nominated candidates failed the strict two-week nomination process and also did not secure the approval of at least nine members of three government-appointed committees within their constituencies.

A total of 400 nominations were submitted, but none were from opposition parties, HKFP reported.

“Anti-China forces”

Zheng openly criticized the pro-democracy camps and described them as “anti-China disrupting Hong Kong forces” elected “amid the chaos.”

He alleged that elected pro-democracy councilors in the 2019 district elections later instigated a “trilogy of seizing power” involving the Legislative Council election and the chief executive election.

“It was a dark hour for Hong Kong when the elected councilors — many of whom were from the pro-democracy camp — promoted Hong Kong independence and stirred up conflicts in society,” Zheng said.

However, he did not provide any evidence that they instigated or supported the independence movement.

Plans to overhaul district council elections were unveiled this May to ensure only “patriots” are elected, following a landslide victory by the pro-democracy camp in 2019.

The number of seats chosen democratically by the public was slashed to around 20 percent, with the rest chosen by the city’s leader, government-appointed committees, and officials, HKFP reported.

Constituency boundaries were redrawn and have been slated to be chaired by a government official, similar to that of colonial-era arrangements.

All candidates will undergo national security vetting to ensure patriotism, HKFP reported.

Critics, including the United States and European Union, see the revamp as further consolidating Beijing's authoritarian grip on the city, media reports said.

China’s ‘recognized patriotic standards’

Zheng said that there were “recognized standards” for whether an individual qualified as a patriot, saying it was important to consider a person’s “surface-level statements” and “their actual behavior.”

Those who “made mistakes” were welcome to change their position to love the country and city, Zheng said adding that it “would take time to confirm such a transformation.”

“It is unlikely for someone who was actively opposing China and causing chaos in Hong Kong yesterday, or belonged to a political group that was still anti-China and disrupting Hong Kong, to suddenly transform into a patriot today by merely chanting a few slogans,” Zheng said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, who was present at the seminar, cited a white paper issued by China in 2021 on Hong Kong’s democratic progress which accused the British colonial government of political manipulation.

Lee pointed out that the white paper documented the UK authorities expanding Hong Kong’s elections and increasing the number of directly elected seats to the legislature and the district councils a short time ahead of China resuming sovereignty.

“It was an attempt to make Hong Kong an independent or semi-independent political entity, hindering China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the implementation of effective governance,” Lee alleged.

In 2021, more than 300 directly elected district council members resigned or were unseated by the government after the authorities demanded that they pledge loyalty to Beijing.

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