The questions could spell the end of all the last vestiges of democracy in Hong Kong, as the government decided to introduce new requirements for civil servants on Tuesday, including taking an oath of loyalty and embracing Beijing’s rule over the city.
Anyone who does not take the oath – or is deemed to have done so in an insincere manner – will be immediately disqualified from office and barred from standing for election for the next five years, Constitutional and Continental Affairs Secretary Erick Tsang said.
Tsang said that under the proposed new oath requirements, anyone standing for election at any level must embrace national sovereignty and security and accept that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic. from China.
In practice, the concept of “patriotism” could be even broader, extending not only to the country, but also to the ruling Communist Party.
“You can’t say you’re patriotic but you don’t like or respect the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party – that doesn’t make sense,” Tsang said, according to Reuters. “Patriotism is holistic love.”
The new guidelines come a day after a senior Beijing official responsible for Hong Kong affairs called for major electoral reforms to ensure that only patriots can take office.
One of the targets of the law has been politicians in Hong Kong who have used their positions to pressure foreign governments to push for greater democracy in the city, or to impose sanctions against officials in Hong Kong and Beijing responsible for the repression of demonstrations. Last year, former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui fled to the UK rather than be arrested for such efforts.
Social contract rewritten
Senior Chinese government officials regularly insist that opposing the Communist Party is tantamount to opposing China itself, but to codify such a demand would be a radical rewrite of the social contract that has governed Hong Kong since its surrender. Chinese rule in 1997.
“What is a patriot? A patriot is one who respects the Chinese nation, sincerely supports the resumption of the homeland’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, and does not wish to harm the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.” , did he declare. “Those who meet these demands are patriots, whether they believe in capitalism or feudalism or even slavery. We are not asking them to be in favor of the Chinese socialist system; we are only asking them to love the homeland and Hong Kong. “
Many Hong Kong activists who pushed for democracy under British rule were staunch Chinese patriots, even nationalists, and embraced the city’s move to China, while continuing to advocate for greater representation. The city’s annual memorial to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Communist Party’s biggest repudiation and a major symbol of Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing, is organized by a group called the Support Alliance to the democratic patriotic movements of China.
While in the past, Beijing has made it clear that the Deng Test certainly does not include anyone who advocates Hong Kong independence (unlike, for example, the British or Canadian parliaments, which both sit as separatist lawmakers), criticism of the Communist Party, even a refusal to recognize the party as legitimate, has never before been considered unpatriotic.
Almost any opposition politician might find it difficult to cross such a bar, as returning officers have used previous election statements and documents to disqualify candidates, whether or not they have since disowned them.
No room for dissent
While Hong Kong’s main legislature – where only about 50% of the seats were elected in the first place – has already been effectively castrated, the new oath requirements would go even further.
As Tsang made clear, this law is aimed squarely at the city’s district councils, low-power local bodies that have nonetheless assumed major symbolic importance both in being freely elected and in the word nominal they have in the choice of the head of the city. .
When the new requirements are passed by the legislature – a deal reached, given that all pro-democracy members resigned last year in protest against the expulsion of several of their colleagues – it will likely mean four district councilors in exercise will immediately lose their seat. , since they were already judged insufficiently patriotic to stand for election to the higher body.
She thanked her staff, “for your willingness to accompany me in this unstable job”, adding that on the day she took office, “I promised to improve Tin Wan and I did not violate this oath” .
CNN’s Eric Cheung contributed reporting.