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Democrats Resign as Beijing Signs Death Warrant for Hong Kong’s Democracy

The UK Government remains silent as politicians who refuse to accept China’s sovereignty over the city are purged, reports Steve Shaw

A pro-democracy protester during a memorial vigil at Victoria Park, Hong Kong. Photo: PA

Democrats Resign As Beijing Signs a Death WarrantFor Hong Kong’s Democracy

The UK Government remains silent as politicians who refuse to accept China’s sovereignty over the city are purged, reports Steve Shaw

With the US in turmoil and the British Government silent, the Chinese Communist Party has effectively ended what was left of Hong Kong’s democracy by ousting political opponents.

All 19 of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers announced they would be resigning on Wednesday in a show of solidarity for four of their colleagues who were disqualified from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo). 

The disqualifications came after Beijing passed a resolution that said lawmakers could be removed by the city’s ruling party if they refused to accept China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong or if they promoted Hong Kong’s independence. The resignations mean there is no longer any credible opposition to the Government.

One of the four democrats ousted from LegCo was Dennis Kwok, who had previously spoken out against a law which criminalised insulting the Chinese national anthem. He called the disqualification “clearly a breach of basic law” – the mini constitution that enshrines the principle of “one country, two systems”, created by the British and Chinese governments prior to the city’s handover in 1997.

Wu Chi Wai, who has been chair of the Democratic Party since 2016, called the disqualifications “utterly ridiculous”. He explained the decision from Beijing meant Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam would now be able to remove any politician she considered not to be patriots, making it virtually impossible to hold the Government to account.

It marks the latest development in Hong Kong’s slide towards becoming an authoritarian police state. China’s top legislature unanimously passed a new national security law on June 30 and it has given the city’s pro-China Government the ability to round up almost anyone who opposes them including politicians, journalists and protesters. The law even applies outside of the city’s borders. At the end of October, Hong Kong Police also launched a new “national security hotline” which encourages citizens to inform the police if they suspect their neighbours or colleagues of breaking the law.

Lord Chris Patten, the UK’s last Governor of Hong Kong, called the ousting of democrats another example of the Chinese Communist Party “trampling on what is left of democracy” in Hong Kong. “Once again, Xi Jinping’s regime has demonstrated its total hostility to democratic accountability, and those who wish to stand up for it,” he said.

Former UK Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind branded it a “death warrant” for the one country, two systems principle. “We salute the courage of the pro-democracy legislators who have resigned in protest,” he continued. “They are the giants. The Chinese Government are little more than bullies in comparison.”

British Government’s Silence

The British Government has a historic duty to stand up for the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens under the Sino-British Joint Declaration which it signed before the handover. Byline Times questioned the UK Foreign Office about whether the government had held any meetings with officials in Beijing or in Hong Kong to hold them to account. They refused to answer, claiming it could “harm relations with China”.

With the UK doing little to support Hong Kong’s citizens, many had turned to the US thanks to outgoing President Donald Trump’s tough stance against China. Most notably, Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that imposes sanctions on officials for human rights violations. But in the fallout of the election which has left Trump scrambling to find a way to cling to power, it seems unlikely that Hong Kong will be at the top of his agenda. Furthermore, there is uncertainty over what stance President-elect Joe Biden will take when he takes office in January.

Biden has claimed he will also take a strong stance against Beijing and has labelled Chinese President Xi Jinping a “thug”. However, during his time as Vice-President in the Obama administration, he spent a lot of time with the Chinese leader, including taking walks and holding private dinners. The New York Times noted that Biden “made a quick personal connection with the Chinese leader” and spent more than 25 hours dining with him privately.

Benedict Rogers, Chief Executive of the campaign group Hong Kong Watch called it a “dark day” for Hong Kong’s democracy. “The move by Beijing to disqualify four pro-democracy lawmakers and the passing of a resolution that would purge pro-democracy voices from the legislative council is in direct contradiction to the ‘one country, two systems model’,” he said. “It will turn Hong Kong’s legislature into little more than a rubber stamp comprised of pro-Beijing acolytes, entirely unrepresentative of the people of Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says that she wants a body composed of patriots, but there is nothing patriotic about vandalising Hong Kong’s democracy, undermining the Basic Law, and betraying her responsibility to serve all of the people of Hong Kong. Beijing’s attempts to purge pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong will not stop at the doors of the Legislative Council chamber. Now that Hong Kong’s highest democratic body has been reduced to little more than a puppet-show, it will fix its sights on the judiciary. This will have significant ramifications for the rule of law and the city’s status as a common-law jurisdiction.”

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