Hong Kong to vet political candidates’ past to ensure loyalty to China

China says it will move to ensure only ‘patriots’ run the city, amid ongoing crackdown on democracy movement

Pedestrians walk on a street in Hong Kong on March 31, 2021. (Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
Pedestrians walk on a street in Hong Kong on March 31, 2021. (Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

HONG KONG — Candidates for public office in Hong Kong will have their entire history vetted, its top justice official said Saturday, after China announced a radical overhaul to ensure only “patriots” run the city.

Beijing imposed sweeping changes on Hong Kong’s electoral system on Tuesday, the latest step in an ongoing crackdown on the city’s democracy movement after massive and often violent protests.

The latest amendments to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, have ensured that a majority of lawmakers will be selected by a reliably pro-Beijing committee, and every candidate will be vetted by national security officers.

Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng told public broadcaster RTHK that the committee will consider “all the materials related to the candidates,” including anything that is “suspected to have affected their loyalty and allegiance.”

Cheng said there was no restriction on what could be reviewed.

Former lawmaker Cyd Ho (L) and pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan (C) gesture while leaving West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on April 1, 2021, after being found guilty of organizing an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019. (ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

“We can’t completely limit ourselves and say we will only review things from the last three to five years, as we have to review everything in context… Maybe something he or she mentioned 10 years ago connects with what they said yesterday.”

China’s leaders have moved decisively to tighten their control of the international finance hub, dismantling Hong Kong’s limited democratic pillars after massive protests broke out in 2019.

They imposed a national security law last year that outlawed much dissent.

This file photo taken on August 18, 2019 shows protesters gathering for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong, in opposition to a planned extradition law that had morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city (Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)

Dozens of campaigners have been prosecuted or jailed since, smothering protests in a city that had enjoyed greater political freedoms than the authoritarian mainland under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement.

Chinese authorities have trumpeted the electoral reform as the second of a “combination of punches” to quell unrest, after the sweeping national security law.

When Hong Kongers are allowed to vote in limited local elections, they tend to do so overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, something that has rattled authoritarian Beijing.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on March 30, 2021. (Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

Under the new measures, Hong Kong’s legislature will be expanded from 70 to 90 seats, but only 20 of them will now be directly elected, down from 35.

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