Written by: Harry Colvin
China recently instituted the “patriot” plan as part of its reformation of Hong Kong’s electoral system. This plan is considered to be a reform that tightens China’s control over Hong Kong and reduces the independence of its democratic government.
In 1997, the British ceded control of Hong Kong back to China; the relationship was described in the Chinese constitution as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong established a mini-constitution that defined its Basic Law, which included the democratic election of a parliament. On March 11, however, China approved a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, in what is known as the “patriot” plan.
Since the establishment of Basic Law, Hong Kong has had a parliament, known as the Legislative Council, composed of 70 members who are elected by the public every four years. The “patriotic” reform changes a few things about that system. The Republic of China’s Election Committee, which has very strong ties to China’s capital of Beijing, will determine who can be a candidate for the parliament election. Additionally, the Legislative Council of Hong Kong will expand from 70 to 90 members. However, the number of elected officials will reduce from 35 to 20; they will be the candidates who will be chosen by the Election Committee and elected by the people of Hong Kong. The other 70 members of the Legislative Council will include 40 chosen directly by the Election Committee, and 30 elected by special interests such as business, banking, and trade, who are considered historically pro-Beijing.
This new reform is spurred largely by the tension that has built up between Hong Kong and China over the past few years. China made plans to pass an extradition bill in 2019, which would give the right to arrest anyone in Hong Kong who violated Chinese law, not just Hong Kong law. This was met with both peaceful and violent protests in 2019 and early 2020. Since the protests, China has made more moves to strengthen its control over Hong Kong, which includes the passing of that extradition bill and the establishment of the “patriot” reform.
Emily Lau, the Hong Kong Democratic Party Chair, said this is not a surprise to the people of Hong Kong. “People know that Beijing is very upset with developments in Hong Kong. Upset with the Chief Executive Carrie Lam, of course, upset with the activists, and also upset with the pro-Beijing politicians, whom some Beijing academics call ‘loyal trash.’ So they want to revamp the whole system, and put in the people who they think they trust and would deliver…and get rid of all the opposition voices.”
Calling for more awareness from the international community, Lau continues, “We certainly hope that the international community would voice their concern. Not just for us. Because there are citizens of many countries living and working here. And their companies are operating here. And if things go really bad, they will also suffer.”
However, some feel that the situation has gone too far to be mended back to democracy. Lee Jonghyuk, assistant professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, says that “China’s leadership will never give in to the public. It will never revert their decisions even with the international pressure.”
This commanding move marks a drastic shift in the relationship between China and Hong Kong and reflects the fragility of the democratic process worldwide. The relationship between Hong Kong and China will continue to shift. Aspects of Hong Kong’s Basic Law have been left untouched. Lau hopes that Hong Kong’s judges will remain independent, free, and fair. But for now, China continues to arrest those involved in public pro-democratic protests and campaigns, asserting their dominance over Hong Kong.
As the world watches Hong Kong’s democracy erode, many countries may be re-evaluating their relationship with China. The country is central to worldwide trade and general advancements in technology, and thus the relationships China keeps are not only delicate but critical to modern global society. Initiatives such as this reformation of Hong Kong’s electoral process could have impacts far more nuanced and significant than what appears at the surface.