Hong Kong electoral changes by China do not represent will of residents: US envoy

ANI
·4-min read
U.S. Consul General of Hong Kong and Macau (Photo/ US Consulate website)
U.S. Consul General of Hong Kong and Macau (Photo/ US Consulate website)

Hong Kong, April 1 (ANI): China's drastic overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system would neither produce any "meaningful democratic results" nor represent the inclusive and credible will of Hongkongers, the United States' top envoy to the city said on Thursday.

US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau Hanscom Smith, according to South China Morning Post, said: "The recent changes ... rubber-stamped by the National People's Congress will reshape Hong Kong's electoral landscape even more dramatically, packing [the Legislative Council] and the committee that selects the chief executive with its own hand-picked supporters and subjecting all candidates for office to a screening for ill-defined patriotism."

"Unfortunately, the latest moves by Beijing, once implemented by the Hong Kong government, will ensure that the upcoming [chief executive] and Legco elections will not produce meaningful democratic results, and will be neither inclusive nor credible representations of the will of people in Hong Kong," he added.

On Thursday, China's National Peoples' Congress Standing Committee approved sweeping changes to the city's electoral system which would empower the Election Committee - originally tasked with picking the chief executive - the right to nominate all candidates aspiring to be lawmakers and elect 40 representatives of its own to Legco.

The committee will control all key elections, while a new vetting committee would also be established to screen out candidates deemed "unpatriotic" with help from the national security police.

The diplomat believed the changes meant it was "virtually impossible for voices that have not been approved by Beijing to achieve any kind of meaningful role" in the city.

South China Morning Post reported that Smith was speaking hours after Washington unveiled the State Department's latest Hong Kong Policy Act Report, which concluded the city did not warrant preferential treatment under US law owing to the erosion of its autonomy at the hands of Beijing.

A total of 35 Hong Kong and mainland officials accused of undermining the city's autonomy have been sanctioned by Washington over the past year, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who earlier said she and her colleagues would not be intimidated.

"Our focus is on imposing a cost, deterring and showing our solidarity," Smith said. "And as I said, we'll continue to look at the options and the tools that we have to respond to additional assault and erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy."

He also stated that the draconian national security law, imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong last year had created an atmosphere of fear and coercion which deterred opposition activists from having exchanges with the consulate.

"I continue to meet with people across the spectrum, as does the team," Smith said. "There are some people on the pro-democracy [and] civil society side who are hesitant to meet with us because they're worried about being falsely accused of somehow colluding with a foreign power."

Calling the changes a "sad development", Smith said he believed they ran contrary to what had made Hong Kong successful in the past. "Hong Kong didn't become one of the world's most developed places, through fear and self-censorship," he said. "It became successful through openness, pluralism, and exchange on all fronts."

Smith also accused the central government of putting increased political pressure on the judiciary by, among other things, accusing judges of bias after protesters accused of rioting and other crimes were acquitted.

The envoy said that Washington had shared "so many values" with Hong Kong, which he said were now "under assault" by Beijing. "And so we have to be here to promote what we think has worked so well," he said.

Under the new Hong Kong's electoral system, the Hong Kong Legislative Council's geographical constituencies will be reduced from 35 to 20 seats, which dramatically diminishes the element of direct voting.

The national security police unit would help scrutinise candidates and submit a report to the newly formed vetting committee.

The powerful new committee that will vet candidates for Hong Kong's most important elections will be kept to fewer than 10 people and members decided by two groups overseeing national security reported SCMP.

Despite fierce international condemnation, China approved the contentious resolution, a move that critics say could further smother opposition voices in Hong Kong. Several countries have condemned Beijing's move to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system.

Less than a year after imposing the National Security Law, China has launched a legislative process for drastic electoral system reform in Hong Kong, which could benefit the pro-establishment camp and further smother the political opposition in the city. (ANI)