On March 11, 2021, China’s National People’s Congress adopted a decision on improving the electoral system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The NPC Standing Committee will soon act accordingly to amend Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which are annexes concerning the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive and the members of its Legislative Council (Legico), the number of whom will be increased from 70 to 90. Thereafter, necessary local laws in Hong Kong will be made to enforce the legislature by the central government. In due course, there will be a restructured, more representative and more powerful election committee in Hong Kong that will play a critical role in the election of the chief executive and the Legico members.
Specifically, the new election committee will have a total of 1,500 members, 300 more than before, and will have the power to not only elect the chief executive and a significant portion of the Legico members, but also participate in nominating the candidates for Legico election. Relatedly, a vetting committee will be created to review every candidate running for the chief executive, the Logico as well as the election committee.
The move to improve the electoral system in Hong Kong, featuring prominently the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong”, is a major initiative on par with the Hong Kong national security law adopted by the NPC in May 2020, and represents a new milestone in China’s practice of “one country, two systems” .
Significance of the overhaul
As an instance of the exercise of governance by the central government, the initiative has demonstrated China’s continued commitment to “one country, two systems”, and will usher in a new era in Hong Kong’s development and contribute decisively to the long-term stability and prosperity in this part of China. Specifically, it will have four big benefits:
First, serving as a minimally invasive surgery to cure the city of its diseases, the reform will pave the way for the ship of one country two systems to sail far and steady. Since the return of Hong Kong in 1997, China has worked hard all along to implement the principle of one country two systems, taking many steps for the political development in the city. However, too much emphasis was often given to the “two systems” to the neglect of the “one country”, which undermined the governance of the central government over the city. The infiltration into key positions in the governance architecture of Hong Kong by anti-China subversives and even separatists, and their activities, in particular, posed severe challenges for the practice of one country two systems in Hong Kong. Now with the adjustment, many of the political problems will be rooted out. Not only will Hong Kong get rid of the political confrontations and entanglements as have occurred since its return, especially over the past two years, but also the weird phenomenon will be terminated that local public officers work against the city’s government and the central authorities or even beg foreigners to impose sanctions against China. The principle of one country two systems will then have a more solid institutional foundation in Hong Kong and will be more comprehensively and accurately implemented in the city, giving Hong Kong a truly bright future in the years and decades to come.
Second, Hong Kong will see real progress in its democracy with the adjustment. Before Hong Kong’s return to China, its residents had no democracy to speak of. Over the recent years, however, the idea of democracy has been abused increasingly in the city to create confusion, anarchy and chaos, and ordinary citizens could do little about what they wanted most, such as housing, jobs and better income, which were neglected or pushed aside because of the filibustering and the boycott by the opposition politicians. The anti-China subversives and separatists would do their uttermost to sabotage efforts by the government of the city to develop the economy and improve the well-being of the people. Since the nature of democracy is for voters to elect people that would represent and work for their best interests, the overhaul of the electoral system will mean substantive progress in the democracy in Hong Kong. The loopholes and faults of the existing election regulations will be done away with and the fundamental interests and well-being of the people will be better guaranteed. It can be expected that Hong Kong will develop an efficient electoral system with its own characteristics.
Third, Hong Kong will finally be able to concentrate on its development with the end of its severe infighting. The non-patriots keen on political operations aimed at grabbing more power will be removed from the governance architecture in Hong Kong, and they will have much less chance to disturb and disrupt the work of the local government for the well-being of the 7.5 million residents. Hong Kong will become integrated into the development of the whole country, especially the Greater Bay Area, and be able to enhance its standing as international free port, international shipping hub and international financial center, and attract more and more investors. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the proportion of corporations optimistic about the business environment in Hong Kong has increased significantly since June 2020, when the Hong Kong national security law came into effect in the city. The overhaul of the electoral system, coupled with the law, will eventually restore Hong Kong as a popular business hub in the Asia-Pacific and the world at large.
Fourth, foreign interference with the affairs in Hong Kong, including the elections, will be prevented and thwarted when the non-patriots, or the Trojan horses, are removed from the governance architecture through the reform. This will definitely be a major positive development for safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.
Support vs opposition
Given the above benefits, the planned overhaul has been very well received in Hong Kong as well as in the other parts of China. About 70 percent of the residents in Hong King are in favor of it, according to a survey by Hong Kong Research Association. Learning about the reform, people from all walks of life in the city have expressed their heart-felt support through various means, such as speaking up on TV, writing articles, holding discussions, and so on. Many foreign governments have also voiced their welcome and support.
However, some Western countries are less than happy with the upcoming adjustment in Hong Kong and are trying to obstruct it. This is more than unreasonable, as, above all, it is purely China’s internal affairs, and other countries have no right whatever to interfere.
Moreover, in the US, UK and other Western countries, it is just a basic requirement for public officers to be patriots. Article VI of the US constitution stipulates that public officers including members of the US Congress and the state legislatures shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the US Constitution. When becoming US citizens, immigrants from abroad must renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to their motherlands and swear allegiance to the US. In the UK, the requirement is similar, and one parliamentarian from Scotland caused a controversy by crossing his fingers when swearing allegiance to the Queen.
Similarly, no country would want foreign interference with their elections and other internal affairs. For example, on March 4, 2021, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to protect US elections from foreign interference.
The improvement of the electoral system will help ensure Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity, and its success will contribute to the interests of all countries, including the US and the UK. Those foreigners against the overhaul should give up their prejudices or political calculations, and embrace it by action. They should at least refrain from finger-pointing and any form of interference in China’s internal affairs, and, in particular, no longer encourage and support the anti-China subversives and separatists in Hong Kong.
The author is a long-time research fellow on international politics and developments in Hong Kong and Macao.