China moves to tighten control over Hong Kong’s electoral system

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China’s ceremonial legislature on Thursday endorsed the Communist Party’s latest move to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the role of its public in picking the region’s leaders.

The measure adds to a crackdown against protests in Hong Kong since 2019 calling for greater democracy. That has prompted complaints Beijing is eroding the autonomy promised when Hong Kong return to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a global financial centre.

The National People’s Congress voted 2,895-0, with one abstention, to endorse changes that would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of Hong Kong’s lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Delegates routinely endorse party plans by unanimous vote or overwhelming majorities.

President Xi Jinping and other party leaders sat on stage in front of delegates as they cast votes electronically. The NPC has no real powers but the party uses its brief annual meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, to showcase major initiatives.

The changes in Hong Kong would give a pro-Beijing committee power to appoint more of its lawmakers, reducing the number elected by the public. Details have yet to be announced, but Hong Kong news reports say the committee might pick one-third of lawmakers.

Supporters of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion wave mobile phone lights outside a court in Hong Kong on March 5. Four of the 47 activists were released on bail that day. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The mainland government has rejected complaints it is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and says the changes are necessary to protect the region’s stability.

Also Thursday, the NPC endorsed the ruling party’s latest five-year development blueprint. It calls for stepping up efforts to transform China into a more self-reliant technology creator — a move that threatens to worsen strains with Washington and Europe over trade and market access.

Last year, the party used the NPC session to impose a national security law on Hong Kong in response to the protests that began in 2019. Under that law, 47 former legislators and other pro-democracy figures have been arrested on subversion charges that carry a possible maximum penalty of life in prison.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended the changes in Hong Kong as needed to protect its autonomy and defend its “transition from chaos to governance.”



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