Hong Kong may be about to find out the democracy that fits best, at least in Beijing’s opinion, is no democracy at all.
At the opening of the two sessions — the twin meetings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) — Thursday, Zhang Yesui, the NPC spokesman, said recent unrest in Hong Kong “showed that the electoral system needs to be improved” in order to ensure “patriots govern.”
The Election Committee, a Beijing-dominated body which currently chooses Hong Kong’s leader, will be expanded, likely diluting the influence of any pro-democracy members, and will also be given the power to nominate all candidates for the legislature, as well as “electing a relatively large share of Legislative Council members,” Wang said.
That pre-trial jail time could be a mere precursor to a much longer sentence: the national security law, imposed on the city by the Chinese central government last year, carries a potential life sentence for “grave” offenses of subversion, while those found guilty of lesser offenses can get between three and 10 years in prison.
Speaking after bail hearings for the 47 defendants involved in the case this week, Chan Ho-wun, convenor of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front, one of the organizers of the city’s massive pro-democracy street demonstrations in 2019, said the government had “lost all conscience.”
“This is a coup, this is subverting people’s choices,” Chan said. “We hope the government can immediately respond to people’s demands.”
In the year since it was introduced, the security law has gutted opposition politics in Hong Kong, stifling protests and public displays of dissent, sending activists into exile, and seeing dozens of prominent figures — and those not so prominent — arrested and facing significant prison terms.
This “ultimate aim” as it is described in the Basic Law has long seemed like a distant goal, one that is growing ever more unattainable.
“In Hong Kong the extra autonomous power that we enjoy actually comes from Beijing, and Beijing has to account to all the 1.4 billion people in the whole of China,” he said. “Ignoring the sentiments of the mainland people is self-deception on the part of Hong Kong.”
He added that “by pushing on the democracy envelope too far, and by attempting to chip away the authority of Beijing in, for example, appointing the chief executive, many of the so-called democrats have become, in practice, separatists.”
In a separate interview with Reuters, Leung did not rule out returning to office, saying “I am among millions of Hong Kong people who are eligible” to be the next Chief Executive.
But as Beijing’s recent moves demonstrate, while millions may be eligible, the number of Hong Kongers who China’s leaders trust to actually wield power is vanishingly small, and shrinking by the day.