HONG KONG — Senior Chinese Communist Party officials signaled on Tuesday that a further clamp down on opposition is likely in Hong Kong following a year of social unrest, stressing that the city must be governed by patriots.
“Hong Kong cherishes core values such as democracy, freedom and human rights… but before we talk about the core values of Hong Kong, we have to talk about patriotism,” said Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, at a high-level legal forum to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.
“Hong Kong is a part of the People’s Republic of China,” he said. “We should only allow patriots to rule Hong Kong.”
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, last week voted to grant Hong Kong authorities the power to oust lawmakers on national security grounds without going through local courts.
Four pro-democracy legislators were unseated immediately, prompting all other opposition lawmakers in the city’s Legislative Council to collectively resign in protest.
The committee resolution stipulated that lawmakers would be disqualified if they are ruled to have promoted or supported Hong Kong independence, refused to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, sought foreign forces’ interference in Hong Kong affairs or committed other acts jeopardizing national security.
While the disqualification of the four legislators has drawn international condemnation, with the U.S. threatening more sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials, Zhang hailed the decision as a “good precedent.”
“People who love the country and Hong Kong, govern Hong Kong, and people who are anti-China and cause trouble in Hong Kong are out,” he said, paraphrasing late Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. “It is officially a legal requirement now.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam cited Deng’s comment that “it was for Hong Kong’s good that Beijing retains some powers over the city after 1997,” the year of the handover, so that the central government could take action if trouble broke out in the city.
Zhang called for “reform” of the financial hub’s independent judiciary, a legacy of British colonial rule, saying that local courts have been “applying obscure Western values and norms” that are not suited for Hong Kong’s circumstances. He said that the Basic Law is “alive” and can be interpreted when necessary.
“Some cliches have been repeated recently,” he said. “People said that… ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law are dead.”
“We have heard too much,” he said. “Let these curses become the historical record of how some people slapped their own faces, and let these noises become the background music as Hong Kong embraces changes and enters a new era.”
Speaking at the same forum, Qiao Xiaoyang, a former director of the National People’s Congress Basic Law Committee, said Hong Kong people need to look at the city’s constitution through Beijing’s eyes.
“You can’t look at it from Hong Kong’s perspective. You’re Chinese,” Qiao said. “You should stand in the position of our nation to understand it.”
Other senior Chinese officials attending the event, including Zhang Yong, now vice chairman of the Basic Law Committee, and Chen Dong, a deputy director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, offered similar thoughts.
Zhang’s “whole speech is chilling because it is very clear that this speech is not intended to draw a line under the recent turbulence, ending with the pan-dem [disqualifications or] resignations,” tweeted Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author. “It is signaling a new crackdown in which the [disqualifications] are just the beginning.”