Date
11 December 2017
Li Fei (second from right) and other senior mainland officials hold talks with Hong Kong lawmakers in Shenzhen on May 31. Beijing has reaffirmed its resolve to push through a contentious plan for the HK chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ
Li Fei (second from right) and other senior mainland officials hold talks with Hong Kong lawmakers in Shenzhen on May 31. Beijing has reaffirmed its resolve to push through a contentious plan for the HK chief executive election. Photo: HKEJ

Beijing ups the ante on HK electoral reform

For those still harboring hopes that Beijing will soften its stance on the framework for the 2017 chief executive election, comments Sunday by mainland officials should put to rest any such dreams. 

Following talks in Shenzhen with a group of pan-democratic lawmakers from Hong Kong, Chinese officials made it clear once and for all that there is no going back on the plan laid out by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on August 31 last year.

Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, stressed that the electoral reform plan must be implemented as it was a “well-informed decision which adhered to the rules set out in the Basic Law”.

The process outlined for choosing Hong Kong’s top leader will apply not only to the 2017 election, but also to all such exercises in the future, Li said.

The legality of the NPC decision cannot be challenged, he said, warning lawmakers that their vote on the electoral reform bill will be seen as a test of their loyalty to the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.

If lawmakers choose to cast a negative ballot, they will be severely punished by Hong Kong voters, Li added.

Another Beijing official, Wang Guangya, said the nominating committee will seek to filter out any person who has a goal of confronting the central government and questioning its authority.

Beijing will not tolerate stubborn actions by a handful of pan-democrats who go against the general consensus, he said. 

A majority of the democrats are patriotic, but there are a few radical elements that need to be kept in check, added Wang, who heads the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council. 

The comments came as pan-democratic lawmakers have pledged to vote against the government’s political reform bill, saying that they cannot support “fake universal suffrage”.

Under the Beijing-mandated plan, Hong Kong people can exercise their franchise but they will have to choose between just two or three pre-screened candidates for the city’s top job.

Some observers had hoped that Beijing might offer concessions in a bid to garner support from pan-democrats for the electoral bill, but the comments made Sunday suggest that there is no room for compromise now.

The government’s political reform plan is set for a vote in Hong Kong’s legislature later this month. 

After the last-ditch talks with Beijing officials Sunday, pan-democratic lawmakers admitted that the central government is in no mood to relent.

Still, they reiterated their pledge to vote against the electoral reform package. 

Mainland officials, meanwhile, stressed that even if the bill gets thwarted in the legislature for now, the election framework won’t be altered.

Beijing’s paranoia is evident as it has for the first time linked the vote on the electoral reform plan to a test of people’s loyalty to the “One Country, Two Systems”.

Interestingly the latest discussions between the two sides came the same day as hundreds of people staged a march in Hong Kong to mark the upcoming 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Beijing is aware that the events that took place on June 4, 1989, when hundreds of pro-democracy activists were mowed down in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, have fueled a deep sense of mistrust among Hong Kong people towards the Chinese Communist Party.

To prevent any uprising in Hong Kong after the territory’s 1997 handover, China’s leaders sought to instill a sense of “nationalism” among Hong Kong people.

There were also many attempts to discredit the pan-democrats, with Beijing arguing that the opposition camp’s actions won’t do any good for the city. 

Now, the battle has entered a new and critical stage as the legislature prepares for the all-important vote.

With Beijing digging in its heels, the pan-democrats may not be able to achieve genuine universal suffrage at this stage by vetoing the election reform proposal.

But at least, they can stay united to protect Hong Kong’s core values.

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SC/AC/RC

EJ Insight writer

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