China lawmakers to vote on Hong Kong's electoral system changes today

Hong Kong’s Deputy Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Song Ru’An (centre) speaks to international media during a press conference, on March 9, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China's lawmakers will vote on Thursday (March 11) on proposed changes to Hong Kong's electoral system that will bring a slew of changes including a pre-requisite that potential lawmakers and officeholders will have to be loyal to Beijing.

The changes to an already limited electoral system, which has been dubbed "patriots governing Hong Kong", are aimed at plugging loopholes and ensuring stability in the city, senior officials have said.

While the city's representatives to China's top political advisory committee can agree on the official definition of a patriot, there seemed to be less of a consensus on what it would mean in the Hong Kong context.

Delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that The Straits Times spoke to said it was "necessary" that officeholders in the territory be patriotic to avoid the mass protests that rocked Hong Kong for most of 2019.

"It's about choosing a system... and ensuring there is continuity to make sure history doesn't repeat itself," said Professor Wong Kam Fai, a representative from Hong Kong.

"It means you have someone who does things that are in favour of your country... not what we saw in 2019."

After a bid to pass an extradition law in Hong Kong triggered mass protests, Beijing has stepped up its control over the city, which is governed under the "one country, two systems" framework.

Lawmakers last year passed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the unrest, and will vote on the proposed electoral changes on Thursday.

China's legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), is having its annual meeting in Beijing this week, where lawmakers will debate the country's legislative agenda for the year. Along with a similar gathering of the CPPCC, they are collectively known as the "two sessions", one of the key events in the country's political calendar.

When passed, the proposed electoral changes will be sent to the Basic Law Committee of the NPC, where the specific legislation will be drafted.

For Dr Chan Cheuk Hay, who is an education sector representative from Hong Kong to the CPPCC, a patriot is "someone who would defend 'one country, two systems' and Hong Kong. It's the simplest version of what patriotism means to me".

"There are many tests to determine this... it doesn't mean just to have big rhetoric but an understanding that if we want to maintain two systems, recognising the 'one country' part of it is important," he said.

In recent years, the political discourse in Hong Kong has become "too conceptual and ideological", focusing on intangibles, said Dr Chan, adding that it was important to return to the fundamentals.

"It's better that (Beijing) is clear about what they want and set the boundaries so people in Hong Kong know what to expect... rather than a grey area where everyone is pushing the boundaries."

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