China on Friday moved to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, and set an economic target for this year as it began the annual session of the Parliament, reported Reuters.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hailed the achievements of 2020 as the country overcame the coronavirus pandemic, and laid out plans for economic recovery, reduced emissions, investment in innovation, and to improve a declining demographic outlook. Beijing also unveiled its five-year plan, vowing to increase funding by over 7% on annual research and development until 2025.
“We owe our achievements last year to the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core,” Li said in an hour-long speech to more than 5,000 delegates assembled in the Great Hall of the People. He also pledged to “resolutely guard against and deter” interference from external forces, adding that “any separatist activity” in Taiwan will also be deterred, according to The Guardian.
Vice Chairperson of the National People’s Congress Wang Chen said that a draft proposal was submitted to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Friday morning. But the contents of the proposal were not made public. However, Chen highlighted significant changes to parts of Hong Kong’s mini Constitution that conduct elections. This also includes a modification to the size of the committee that elects the chief executive.
The draft decision would also allow the committee new powers to “directly participate in the nomination of all legislative council members”, and establish “a qualification vetting system for the whole process”.
“The rioting and turbulence that occurred in the Hong Kong society reveals that the existing electoral system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has clear loopholes and deficiencies,” Wang said, according to Xinhua. “...it is important to take necessary steps to improve the electoral system and remove existing institutional deficiencies and risks to ensure the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with patriots as the main body.”
At the session, Beijing also pledged to increase employment, with the aim of creating more than 11 million new urban jobs, compared to last year’s goal of more than 9 million, according to Reuters.
China’s contentious security law
In June, China’s Parliament had passed the legislation for Hong Kong that would override local laws and give sweeping powers to security agencies. The unprecedented law is aimed at curbing protests – which rocked Hong Kong in 2019 – and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism. These charges are often used in the Chinese mainland to stifle dissidents and political opponents.
China has made several arrests and charged many under the national security law. In December, Hong Kong’s media tycoon Jimmy Lai was charged under the law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces. In November, activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were taken into custody after they pleaded guilty to charges related to demonstrations outside the police headquarters during anti-government protests in 2019. They were also charged under the security law.
Various countries have criticised Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong. On August 7, the previous Donald Trump administration in the United States had imposed sanctions on Lam and 10 other senior officials in the territory and mainland China over their alleged roles in curtailing political freedoms and suppressing dissent. New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom scrapped their extradition treaty with Hong Kong because of China’s law.
In November, all of Hong Kong’s Opposition politicians resigned together after China pushed out four of their colleagues. This came after Beijing passed a resolution allowing the city’s government to dismiss politicians who were considered a threat to national security.
On January 6, the Hong Kong Police arrested 53 pro-democracy activists, including former legislators, for allegedly violating the national security law.