China has passed legislation that allows for the immediate disqualification of lawmakers in Hong Kong deemed by Beijing as unpatriotic and dangerous to national security, in a move widely seen as heralding the end of political opposition in the city.
The measure, passed by China’s highest legislative body on Wednesday, bars anyone from Hong Kong’s legislative council who supports independence, refuses to recognise Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong or seeks help from “foreign countries or foreign forces to interfere in the affairs of the region” as well “other acts that endanger national security”.
The resolution allows Hong Kong authorities to bypass the court system to unseat lawmakers – a measure critics say will be used against pro-democracy lawmakers voicing dissent over Beijing’s increased control over the semi-autonomous territory.
Minutes after the legislation was announced by Chinese state media on Wednesday, the Hong Kong government released a statement disqualifying four pro-democracy legislators. Among those were the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Kwok Ka-ki and Dennis Kwok as well as Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild.
All four lawmakers had already been barred from running in legislative elections originally scheduled for September. The legislative body’s 19 opposition lawmakers on Monday threatened to resign en masse should any of them be disqualified.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Leung said, according to public broadcaster RTHK: “This is a sad day, but it is also a glorious day for us all. Now, we are stepping down, however, there are more Hong Kong people with aspirations, with drive, with hope, with values, who can succeed us. And I’m sure they will continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong.”
Kwok Ka-Ki said: “Today, One Country, Two Systems no longer exists. Anyone who made this decision has to answer to history and every one of the Hong Kong people.”
The 19 democratic members of the 70-seat city legislature threatened to resign en masse on Monday if any of them was disqualified, saying that would reflect their unity and show how far Beijing was willing to go to crush opposition.
The legislation comes months after China’s legislative body passed a sweeping and draconian national security law that has led to dozens of arrests and an unprecedented crackdown on free speech in a city known for its civil freedoms.
The disqualifications are likely to add to concern in the West about Hong Kong’s autonomy, promised under the “one country, two systems” formula when Britain handed it to China in 1997, as Joe Biden prepares to take over from Donald Trump as US president, promising to promote democracy around the world.