Hong Kong announced plans Tuesday to ramp up the ideological vetting of politicians and officials, with anyone seen to be disloyal to China or a national security threat barred from office.
The draft law will be sent next month to the city’s legislature, a body now devoid of opposition after a number of figures were disqualified because their political views were deemed a security threat.
Officials have detailed a “negative list” of offences that could see their colleagues removed from office, including acts that endanger national security, advocating for independence or refusing to accept China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.
The city’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang confirmed that criticism of the Chinese Communist Party could also be a disqualifying factor.
“You can’t say you’re patriotic but don’t love the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership, or don’t respect it,” he told reporters after the new law was announced Tuesday. “This does not make sense.
“Doing harm to the country’s fundamental system, its socialist system, or doing harm to the socialist system led by the Chinese Communist Party, shouldn’t be allowed.”
China has ushered in a sweeping crackdown against critics in Hong Kong after huge and often violent pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub in 2019.
Opponents have been jailed and prosecuted while each month has also brought new laws, procedures and policies aimed at squeezing dissent and imposing a political orthodoxy, including a sweeping new national security law.
Hong Kong has never been a democracy – something that has fuelled protests and resentment towards Beijing.
But the city maintained a veneer of choice that allowed a small and vocal opposition to flourish at certain local elections.
In recent years authorities have ramped up the disqualification of politicians either sitting in the city’s semi-elected legislature or standing as candidates, based on their political views.
The new law expands disqualification powers to all public officials, including district councillors, who hold little political power but hold some of the only posts fully elected by popular vote.
In late 2019 pro-democracy candidates won a massive majority of those positions, in a major blow for Beijing that underscored how – when given the chance – Hong Kongers tend to overwhelmingly opt for pro-democracy candidates.
Under the proposed new law, all district councillors will now have to swear a new oath of allegiance to the state.
Those who refuse to take the oath, make a false oath, or are deemed by officials to be insincere, will be barred from standing for five years.
While officials said the law would not be retrospective they also said “past actions” would be taken into consideration in judging disqualifications.
The announcement of the new requirements came a day after Xia Baolong, a top Chinese official, said plans were underway to ensure only “real patriots” run Hong Kong and to “close any loopholes” that allow “anti-China troublemakers” into politics.