China official says Hong Kong autonomy could last beyond 2047

China has directly interfered with Hong Kong's legal system in recent years. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong's "high degree of autonomy" from China could last for 50 years after legally expiring in 2047, a top Beijing official said, despite China's greatly expanded control over the financial hub in recent years.

Mr Xia Baolong, director of the mainland agency responsible for Hong Kong, made the comments on Wednesday (March 9) to delegates from the finance hub at China's annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing, local media outlets including HK01 reported.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997 on the promise Beijing would leave its capitalist economy and political freedoms untouched for 50 years.

The British government last year accused Beijing of violating the 1984 Sino-British joint-declaration, which laid out the one-country, two systems arrangement, saying it had imposed "radical changes" to the city's electoral system that stifled critics of China's policies.

China has directly interfered with Hong Kong's legal system in recent years. Beijing imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020, then months later made a sweeping overhaul to the city's elections mandating that all candidates must be patriots.

More recently, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam hewed her virus response to the advice of mainland officials, further blurring the lines between the two governments.

Mr Xia's comments are the most explicit by a senior mainland official on the political future of the former British colony beyond 2047 in recent years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped for the "long-term successful practice" of one country, two systems during a 2017 visit to the financial hub, Beijing-backed media outlet Wen Wei Po reported at the time.

Mrs Lam has said she believed the city's unique system "will be practised smoothly in the long term, and will not be changed after 2047", in a legislative session in January 2020.

The security law that carries sentences as long as life in prison has clipped many of Hong Kong's freedoms.

The once vibrant pro-democracy opposition camp is now either in jail, exile or has been disqualified. Several news outlets have shuttered under police pressure, and once-popular political slogans have been outlawed.

National security police have arrested 169 individuals, including dozens of pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers.

The authorities have also sought to revive a long-dormant colonial-era sedition law that lawyers have called unconstitutional as it restricts the freedom of expression guaranteed by the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Mr Xia on Wednesday called the security law good for Hong Kong, adding that the Communist Party was not a substitute for the governance of Hong Kong, HK01 reported.

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