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China endorses Hong Kong's 'patriots only' election

December 22, 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping has praised Hong Kong's "patriots only" election as a success. All candidates were approved by a pro-Beijing committee, and only 20 seats on the legislative council were directly elected.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference after holding talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been criticized for being too close to Bejing Image: Kyodo/picture alliance

China's President Xi Jinping hailed Hong Kong's "patriots only" election on Wednesday.

The "patriots" who could qualify as candidates for the Legislative Council were all approved by a committee deferential to pro-Beijing interests prior to their nominations.

Only 20 of the 90 seats were directly elected. Turnout on Sunday for the elections, at just 30.2%, was the lowest since the British handover of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997.

Pro-democracy activists, many of whom are now in exile, including London-based Nathan Law, pushed for Hong Kong residents to boycott the vote, calling the elections a sham.

Beijing prepared for that contingency, though, as under the new election laws incitement to boycott or cast invalid votes is punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of 200,000 Hong Kong dollars (€22,000/$25,600).

What has Beijing said about Hong Kong's 'patriots only' election?

Xi said the situation in Hong Kong was "changing for the better."

The Chinese leader proclaimed the elections to be a resounding success. He told Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Beijing on Wednesday, "The execution of the new election system adheres to the 'one country, two systems' principle."

Lam herself brushed off concerns about low turnout, suggesting that "there is no benchmark," so "there is no such thing as success or failure."

Zhao Lijian, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said during a regular press briefing Monday that there were "multiple reasons" for voter turnout to decline.

"It is not only the impact of the pandemic, but also the disruption and sabotage of anti-China elements in Hong Kong and external forces,'' he said.

Why does Beijing think Hong Kong needs a 'patriots only' election?

Hong Kong was to have maintained its own political, social and financial systems for 50 years after the handover, but that seems to have wilted away in less than half that amount of time.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council elections had been postponed by a year officially because of the pandemic, but, not inconsequentially, the opposition swept elections for district counselors prior to that announcement.

Protests in 2019 grew increasingly violent as security forces stepped up their interventions in them. Between the protests and the "patriots only" elections, Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong.

Beijing then moved to adjust the electoral process and transform the composition of the Legislative Council. Hong Kong's largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, fielded no candidates for the first time since the handover to Beijing.

The US, EU and the G7 have all condemned the "patriots only" election as falling short of democratic norms.

ar/wd (AFP, AP)