Hong Kong’s government ousted four opposition lawmakers immediately after China passed a law allowing the disqualification of officials deemed unpatriotic, prompting a pro-democracy legislator to say the others would resign en masse.
The disqualified lawmakers were Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, Hong Kong’s government said in a statement. Chief Executive Carrie Lam was scheduled to brief reporters at 2:30 p.m.
The 16 remaining opposition lawmakers in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council will quit at a press conference later Wednesday, democratic politician Fernando Cheung said via text message.
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China’s top legislative body earlier passed a measure requiring Hong Kong lawmakers to be patriots, curbing debate in a democratic institution that has endured more than two decades after the former British colony’s return.
“It’d be hard for us and myself today to admit that is not the hardest or the saddest day for Hong Kong,” Kwok Ka-ki said as opposition members briefed Wednesday. “But I would urge the people of Hong Kong should not give up. We can’t give up.”
The resolution is the latest sign of China’s determination to rein in dissent in the wake of anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong last year. Beijing bypassed the Legislative Council to impose controversial national security legislation in June, causing the Group of Seven nations to accuse China of violating the terms of its handover agreement with the U.K. and prompting the Trump administration to sanction more than a dozen senior officials who oversee the city.
A mass resignation would highlight international concerns about China’s human rights practices just as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on a promise to defend democratic values around the world. He has vowed to “fully enforce” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act signed by Trump last year.
The ability to purge opposition lawmakers would make it easier for Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed politicians to control the Legislative Council if they win an unprecedented majority in elections that the government has postponed — citing coronavirus concerns — over the protests of democracy advocates.
The NPC’s decision “is in the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, and is conducive to safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests,” Standing Committee Chairman Li Zhanshu said at the close of the body’s two-day meeting.
The move will raise new questions about the future of the legislature, perhaps the most high-profile platform for open debate left under Beijing’s rule. After several radical “localist” activists were among a record 29 opposition lawmakers elected in 2016, China handed down a ruling that led to the disqualification of a half dozen lawmakers.
Several remaining lawmakers are also facing criminal charges related to various protests against the government, including seven charged in recent months with participating in a May scuffle at the Legislative Council. Nick Or, an assistant professor of public policy at the CityU, warned that the Hong Kong government risked losing its legitimacy by limiting legislative debate.
“The Hong Kong government may be able to get a rubber stamp, but it is not necessarily a good thing if their proposals are unchallenged,” Or said. “It does not do any good for building up good governance in Hong Kong.”
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