World powers on December 20 condemned Hong’s Kong tightly vetted legislature vote, saying rules imposed by Beijing that reduced directly elected seats and controlled who could stand had “eroded” democracy in the Chinese territory.
Beijing has stepped up direct intervention in Hong Kong affairs in response to huge and often violent “pro-democracy” protests two years ago.
It imposed a national security law in the former British colony that criminalised “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces” and introduced political rules that vet the loyalty of anyone standing for office.
The first public vote under this new order was held on December 19 for the city’s legislature, with a historic low turnout recorded and the number of those directly elected slashed from half to 22 per cent.
Figures showed just 30 per cent of the electorate cast ballots, the lowest rate both of the period since the city’s 1997 handover to China and the British colonial era.
Turnout at the last legislature polls in 2016 was 58 per cent, while the 2019 district council elections, when representatives of the so-called “pro-democracy” camp won a landslide, saw a record 71 per cent.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) of most developed nations expressed “grave concern over the erosion of democratic elements” in Hong Kong’s electoral system after the poll.
The new vetting process “to severely restrict the choice of candidates on the ballot paper undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy” under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” agreed for the handover of the territory from the UK to China in 1997.
The foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US called on China “to restore confidence in Hong Kong’s political institutions and end the unwarranted oppression of those who promote democratic values and the defence of rights and freedoms”.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the poll was “yet another step in the dismantling of the ‘One Country Two Systems’ principle”, and called for a “high degree of autonomy as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles and the rule of law” in Hong Kong.
In an earlier statement, Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand had rebuked the new system in even stronger language, saying “these changes eliminated any meaningful political opposition”.
“We also remain gravely concerned at the wider chilling effect of the National Security Law and the growing restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are being felt across civil society,” the five Western allies added.
China called on Hong Kongers to embrace the new rules that they say will restore stability and root out disruptive “anti-China” elements for good.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam defended the new system and brushed off the low turnout.
“Hong Kong is now back on the right track,” she told reporters.
“We cannot copy and paste the so-called democratic system or rules of the Western countries,” she said.