Beijing Expected to Use New Law to Stifle HK Politicians

National Security Legislation to be rushed into place prior to September polls

Facing another possible drubbing in the polls, the Chinese government is expected to use a deeply unpopular national security law to limit pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong’s September Legislative Council elections.

The pro-democracy camp won a crushing victory in Hong Kong’s district council elections last November, delivering a slap in the face to establishment-allied candidates and Beijing in the largest turnout for any election in the city’s history, with more than 3 million people going to the polls.

Anti-government candidates are expected to repeat that performance in September as an infuriated populace fed up with Beijing’s abrogation of the Basic Law implemented prior to 1997 takes to the polls in opposition. The protests which have hit Hong Kong since the middle of last year have increased anti-China sentiment, with thousands taking to the streets most recently in June 4 remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy students.

The controversial national security law, which has met stiff opposition in Hong Kong, is expected to take effect before the elections. It was approved on May 28 by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC). The legislation caused US President Donald Trump to declare Hong Kong has lost its autonomy, expected to be followed by crippling US revocation of special privileges for the Asian financial hub. The bill has drawn widespread condemnation from ministers of various countries including the UK, Australia, and Canada.

“There is a good chance [the Chinese authorities] will use the national security law as a basis to disqualify the pro-democracy camp in the upcoming election,” Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a Hong Kong lawmaker, told Asia Sentinel.

With the Chinese government quashing opposition in the name of national security in mainland China, said Kwok, a member of the pro-democracy Civic Party. “We expect them to do the same thing in Hong Kong.  I have a good chance of being disqualified,” Kwok added, saying however that he has no idea on what grounds he might be disqualified.

Lawmakers among the pan-democrats, which form Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, can be disqualified on the grounds of colluding with foreign forces, supporting Hong Kong independence, subversion, or terrorism, which are all illegal under the security law.  Pro-democracy figures are meticulously laying out contingency plans to counter the prospects of disqualification by the security law, Kwok said, although he declined to reveal details.

The politicians likely to be disqualified include Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Sunny Cheung and Joshua Wong Chi-fung, said a source who declined to be named. Wong, Chu, and Cheung have been calling for support from Western countries for the Hong Kong protestors, which will likely be an offense under the security law.

“Beijing will likely utilize the national security law to inhibit the pan-democratic camp from securing a majority in LegCo,” said a risk consultant who declined to be named.

The security law will probably be used to disqualify five to seven pro-democracy politicians from the elections, because only a handful of seats are needed to swing from an anti-Beijing majority to a pro-Beijing majority in the 70-seat LegCo, said the risk consultant who has researched the protests and China’s politics.

On June 1, Tam Yiu-Chung, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician, wrote an article in Bauhinia magazine saying Hong Kong lawmakers and political candidates should be disqualified if they oppose the security law. In a press statement on June 3, Lam Cheuk-ting, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, a Hong Kong pro-democracy party, expressed “anger” at Tam, a member of the NPC standing committee.

Lam said, “Tam Yiu-chung is a habitual slave to the powers that be, and wants to pressure others to be a slave like him, all wagging their tails and begging.”

According to Tam’s “twisted argument,” once the security law takes effect, LegCo can only support, but not repeal or amend this law, which violates the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Lam argued.

The signs indicate the security law will come into force within a few months. An article published on June 5 in People’s Daily, a Chinese state newspaper, said the Hong Kong establishment believes this law should be “implemented as soon as possible”.

The Chinese government “most certainly” will want the security law to come into force before the LegCo election in September, said the risk consultant. “This was the insurance policy to ensure the pan-democrats could be neutered before the election.”

If the pro-democracy camp gained a majority in LegCo, no legislation would be passed that they did not agree with, the risk consultant predicted.  “The pro-government parties have sat on their hands doing next to nothing to counter the pro-democracy camp,” he added.

In contrast, the pro-democracy camp has worked tirelessly on establishing consensus among themselves in their candidate selections for the LegCo election, he said. “I suspect that after this election, there will be some sweeping changes in the pro-government camp.”

Offering a contrarian view, Andrew Leung, an international and independent China strategist based in Hong Kong, said, “The law is not introduced to disqualify pro-democracy politicians from LegCo. It is a last resort as Beijing feels increasingly threatened on national security. Anyone found guilty will be dealt with according to the law. There is no exception for any LegCo member, pro-democracy or otherwise.”

A red civil service

While LegCo candidates viewed by Beijing as troublesome risk disqualification, Hong Kong’s civil servants may in future be disqualified for not being pro-Beijing enough as well.

On June 7, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the city’s civil servants are also “the nation’s civil servants.” This is the first time a Hong Kong government official has said the semi-autonomous territory’s civil service would come under China since Hong Kong’s handover to China.

Nip’s words have drawn flak from the pro-democracy camp.

In a press release on June 8, Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a lawmaker with the Civic Party, said Nip’s statement will make Hong Kong’s civil service “red.” If a Hong Kong civil servant performs his tasks in a manner not in line with the superior’s thinking, in Nip’s view, the civil servant risks being disqualified from his job and may possibly be accused of subversion, which is a punishable crime under the security law, Tam pointed out.

The Democratic Party’s Lam, in a press statement on June 8, said subordinating Hong Kong civil servants to the Chinese government will change Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” to “one country, one system.” Lam expressed fears that the Hong Kong civil service’s political neutrality might be compromised.