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Beijing is set to cement its grip on Hong Kong’s parliament. Britain must act to protect democracy

Beijing is set to cement its grip on Hong Kong’s parliament. Britain must act to protect democracy
3 min read

In Hong Kong’s first general election since Beijing’s rigging of the city’s electoral system to ensure only communist party “patriots” hold power, only three of the 153 candidates - or just two percent of all hopefuls - running for Hong Kong’s parliament, the Legislative Council, are self-described democrats.

The rest are regime loyalists, making a mockery of any concept of free and fair elections. This electoral gerrymandering is to ensure the totality of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hegemony.

Following a sweeping, relentless crusade by the Beijing-backed regime under the auspices of the draconian National Security Law, this rigged election will be marred by the total absence of Hong Kong’s opposition parties, 

The once-thriving pro-democracy movement has been decimated, with lawmakers and activists arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, barred from politics, intimidated into silence, or forced to flee abroad.

It is well past time Britain took resolute action and challenged Beijing’s flagrant and pervasive violations of Hong Kong’s disintegrating autonomy and undermined democratic foundations

As part of its totalitarian makeover of the city and dissatisfied with its years-long offensive against its critics in Hong Kong, Beijing has also installed a new vetting committee to screen, rubber-stamp and reject prospective candidates, weeding out any last-remaining “unpatriotic” voices.

The race on Sunday, which will be anything but, will also be the first time a poll is held under the new electoral reforms mandated by the CCP earlier this year, in a bid to muzzle Hong Kong’s once-vibrant parliament.

Though the Legislative Council has been expanded from 70 to 90 seats, the share of directly elected representatives has been slashed from 35 to 20, of which the overwhelming majority will be contested by different shades of communist red, while the remaining 70 have been reserved for hand-picked government loyalists.

In unabashed terms typical of incipient dictatorships, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary and former security tsar, John Lee, has hailed the “non-homogenous” and “competitive” character of the elections – a tired trope no doubt borrowed from his mainland political masters.

It is well past time that Britain - the guarantor of Hong Kong’s enshrined civil and political liberties and to whom Britain has a legal, moral, and historical responsibility under the internationally recognised Sino-British Joint Declaration - took real, resolute action and challenged Beijing’s flagrant and pervasive violations of Hong Kong’s disintegrating autonomy and undermined democratic foundations.

The UK government’s oft-repeated assertion that China is in a “state of ongoing non-compliance” with the joint declaration is severely compromised by the continued absence of serious efforts to hold Beijing accountable.

Despite the government’s endless parading of its Magnitsky-style sanctions regime, introduced last year to tackle breaches of human rights and international norms, this inaction persists. 

The government has rightly imposed these very same sanctions against Chinese officials guilty of gross abuses against the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, but has dithered and delayed on much-needed action against officials guilty of desecrating political freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong.

The UK must find a legal mechanism to hold Beijing to account for its breach of international law - and coordinate a reduction in the lamentable dependency on China by liberal democracies.

The government must urgently demonstrate a renewed commitment to democracy in Hong Kong, defend the ever-shrinking freedoms and rights of its people, and halt the city’s slide towards full-scale Chinese totalitarianism through substantial, sustained, and concerted action.

 

Lord Alton is a crossbench peer and vice-chair of the APPG on Hong Kong.

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