US Has No ‘Moral Capital’ after Capitol Riot, China Says on Hong Kong Election Change Criticism
Responding to American criticism of planned election law changes in Hong Kong as anti-democratic, a senior Chinese official lambasted the United States on Friday as having no “moral capital” to criticize after the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.
Hong Kong is an internal Chinese issue that no foreign country has the right to interfere in, said Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republican of China.
“I don’t know that after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, how the U.S. has such moral capital to point fingers at the election institutions of Hong Kong,” he said, as cited by AP, refering to the riot by supporters of former US President Donald Trump which left 5 people dead.
Zhang Xiaoming’s comment came after on Thursday, China’s Parliament approved a plan to increase Beijing’s control over the election of legislature of Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reacted by condemning in a statement what he called China’s “continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong.”
“These actions deny Hong Kongers a voice in its own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate,” Blinken said.
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1842 until 1997, for the better part of that period under a 99-year lease singed in 1898. Since its transfer back to China in 1997, Beijing has allowed it to maintain a separate Western-style democratic political and economic system under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
However, in recent years, the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping has undertaken steps considered by the West and by many in Hong Kong as encroaching upon political rights and freedoms in the semi-autonomous region. That has led to mass protests but also a presumed tightening of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, the last step in which has been the newly approved election change.
The changes would give a pro-Beijing Election Committee of 1,500 members the responsibility of nominating all members of Hong Kong’s 90-seat legislature, and of selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive.
The Committee would also directly elect some of Hong Kong’s lawmakers to guarantee that the semi-autonomous region is administered by “patriots” and exclude “anti-China” forces from holding key roles in governance.
The number of the lawmakers to be elected by the Committee in question would be unspecified but “relatively large.”
The Hong Kong election revision has caused concern that the proportion of directly elected lawmakers will be reduced.
Pro-government groups such as political organization Friends of Hong Kong set up stalls across the city to collect signatures in support for the changes.
Nearly 200,000 residents have signed so far, according to the website signforhk2021.com.
Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republican of China, also said the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral were a “minimally invasive surgery” that would restore health to the city’s “democratic system.”
“The distinctive features of minimally invasive surgery are small wounds, deep penetration, and quicker recovery,” he said.
In his words, Hong Kong residents will be able to live and work more peacefully as a result of the election changes.
Zhang also declared that the electoral changes were not designed to exclude Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp from the governance structure since anti-China forces could not be considered the same as the opposition.
“The opposition, especially the pan-democrats, also have patriots, and they can still stand for election and be elected according to law in the future,” he said.
Zhang’s comments come against the backdrop of last week’s charging of 47 pro-democracy activists and former legislators in Hong Kong in court for subversion because their involvement in an unofficial primary election. According to the Chinese authorities, the non-sanctioned election was part of a plot to paralyze the Hong Kong government.
Of the 47 pro-democracy activists, only 5 have been granted bail. Those remaining in custody include former lawmakers Claudia Mo and Leung Kwok-hung. The remaining 10 defendants withdrew their application. They will remain in custody.
“I consider myself a patriot. But our worry is that many people from my party, and from the pro-democracy camp may be excluded,” former lawmaker Emily Lau, a member of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, is quoted as saying.
She made it clear Zhang’s words provide little reassurance that any semblance of democracy could still be maintained.
Lau pointed out that under the election changes adopted by the Chinese Parliament in Beijing even after Hong Kong’s lawmakers were elected, there would be continuous vetting throughout their service as they could be removed if found to be insufficiently patriotic.
“I don’t know what their definition of patriotism is, and that is the worrying thing. Once this (electoral system) is set up, you will lose the confidence of the people, and that’s bad for any government,” she said.
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