It is official. The last nail in the coffin of Hong Kong’s democracy has been hammered in by the island territory’s masters in Beijing, with almost all entire Opposition lawmakers having announced their exit from the legislature after four of their colleagues were controversially disqualified this week.
The four lost their seats in the House after Beijing passed a resolution on Wednesday to the effect that lawmakers would be disqualified if they supported Hong Kong’s independence, refused to acknowledge China’s sovereignty, asked foreign forces to interfere in the city’s affairs or otherwise threatened national security.
Immediately after the resolution was passed, the four lawmakers, two of them barristers, one a tax consultant and the last a urologist, were sacked. While no reasons were given for the action, two of the legislators had signed a joint letter to American senators seeking sanctions against Hong Kong for its repeated efforts to throttle democracy, the third had addressed a press conference after return from a trip to the United States while the fourth was said to have the “purported intention” to petition foreign powers against Hong Kong’s rulers. While Beijing’s reasoning may appear both flawed and tortuous if only because Hong Kong has, for all the years of its existence, thrived on its internationalism, it is just another signal of how rapidly the regime under President Xi Jinping has dismantled the “one country, two systems” promise that had underpinned the transfer of control from Britain to China in 1997.
Hong Kong had last year faced months of protests by those who seek greater freedoms, but the movement was sought to be stifled, first, by harsh police measures and, when they appeared to be failing, through a new security law that criminalised “secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.”
Beginning July, student activists have been routinely arrested under these provisions. In the wake of the last arrests in October, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had issued a strongly worded statement accusing China of violating international obligations under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Mr Pompeo had accused the “Chinese Communist Party and its Hong Kong proxies” of crushing “the promised autonomy of Hong Kong”, while eviscerating “Hong Kong’s respect for human rights, including the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
But Beijing is undeterred, as it will be by the latest warning ~ of imposing sanctions on those responsible ~ issued by Washington following the legislators’ disqualifications. Overall, China’s neighbours and those under its control such as the Uighurs and the Tibetans must brace for an increasingly belligerent regime that cares little for human rights, and even less for global criticism.