HONG KONG – After the crackdown on Hong Kong which led to the arrest of 50 pro democratic activists, Beijing is on a move to intensify it’s clampdown on HK to curb any return of a populist challenge to Chinese rule, according to sources.
While stressing that plans haven’t been finalised, the sources said it was possible that the already postponed Hong Kong elections could face reforms that were aimed at reducing the influence of democrats. The elections were set aside citing coronavirus as a reason.
The source went onto state that Beijing’s involvement was “substantial” in driving and coordinating actions with the Hong Kong government. The latest arrests were part of a wave of ongoing measures to silence activists and to “make sure that Hong Kong doesn’t return to what we saw 18 months ago,” when massive demonstrations marked the boldest public revolt against China’s leaders since the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989, added the source.
China has been “too patient for too long, and needs to sort things out once and for all,” said the source, stating that tougher steps would be rolled out for “at least a year”.
A spokesman for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the implementation of a national security law last June had restored stability and reduced street violence.
“The legitimate rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong have been upheld and criminals are brought to justice through our independent judiciary,” he said.
Hong Kong elections were scheduled for Sept 5 and officials were working to ensure an open, fair and honest poll, he added.
Given the massive ground support that the opposition has, Beijing has been concerned that the opposition could muster a majority in the legislature.
A source went onto point out that the elections may be further delayed and that Chinese officials were now discussing ways to alter the electoral system to address “deficiencies” in the political structure.
The second pro-Beijing source confirmed there were advanced talks on structural changes to Hong Kong’s political system, including possibly curtailing the influence of democrats on a 1,200-person election committee to select Hong Kong’s next leader in 2022.
“It will likely shake up the whole political base,” the source said of the reforms.
Lam’s spokesman said authorities were exploring using electronic polling and setting up polling and counting stations in mainland China to allow registered electors there to vote.
Democrats are concerned that any reforms to electoral laws to further isolate the opposition, would now be procedurally guaranteed with the legislature which is controlled by pro-Beijing politicians following a mass resignation of democrats from the legislature last November.
Since the new security law was introduced, authorities have arrested 93 opposition figures under the legislation, frozen activists’ assets, confiscated phones, computers and travel documents, disqualified some lawmakers and targeted media. Hundreds have fled into exile.
As a next step, sources say, authorities might focus on disqualifying hundreds of democratic “district councillors” who dominate the grassroots political arena; entrenching loyalty to China within the civil service; squeezing businesses whose bosses explicitly support the democratic cause; and enforcing censorship of the internet and media under the auspices of national security.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the security law will only target a small minority of “troublemakers”.
Beijing denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub and has opposed criticism of the arrests as “grave interference in China’s sovereignty and domestic affairs.”
Hong Kong, whi ch has enjoyed freewheeling spirit has been witnessing those who challenged China’s authoritarian grip targeted under the sweeping security law.
“Hong Kong has entered a harsh winter,” said Benny Tai, a former law professor who has been a key strategist for the camp, following his arrest. “The wind is blowing fierce and cold.”
When the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, China’s leaders promised, in a mini-constitution, to grant the city a high degree of autonomy and wide-ranging freedoms not allowed in mainland China including free speech, assembly and eventual full democracy.
Yam Kai-bong, a Tai Po district councillor with the localist pro-democracy ‘Neo Democrats’, the recent arrests could scare off, or weaken the opposition camp’s chances in any upcoming election.
“It’s very clear that the authorities, this time, want to cast one net to capture all those who may have been planning to contest the upcoming elections – if they even take place – and to make it very difficult for them to run.”