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Beijing’s assault on what little remains of Hong Kong’s autonomy continued Monday with the announcement of new rules to ensure that only “patriots,” meaning solid loyalists to China and its Communist Party, will be eligible to govern the island.

China’s state-run Global Times hailed the “patriots governing Hong Kong” initiative as an urgently needed effort to fix “loopholes” in the island’s political system, describing it as an “upgrade” to the “one country, two systems” principle of limited autonomy to which China agreed when it took control of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom in 1997.

The Global Times noted this “systematic upgrade,” like the authoritarian “national security” law imposed on Hong Kong last summer, would be implemented through the National People’s Congress in Beijing rather than “proposed by the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region] government and then approved by the central government.”

Later in the article, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief Xia Baolong explained how the “patriots governing Hong Kong plan,” like the national security law, is a ham-fisted effort to crush the pro-democracy movement that spread across Hong Kong in 2019:

Hong Kong experienced severe political turmoil in 2019 when anti-government rioters used scorched earth strategies to paralyze the city in pursuit of their political goals. Some secessionists and extreme anti-government forces spread secessionist ideas, opposing the authority of the central government, instigating dissatisfaction toward the mainland and recklessly interfering in the governance process of the HKSAR government, forcing society as a whole to pay a heavy price for it. 

Xia attributed the earlier chaos in the city to the lack of full-scale implementation of the “patriots governing Hong Kong” principle, which has also become a major urgent task, for which the Chinese official also laid out a series of basic standards including the idea that patriots truly safeguard their country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.

Also, there have been certain specific descriptions laid out for those “who are and who are not patriots,” for example, those who attack the central government in a hysterical manner, openly advocate for “Hong Kong independence” and beg for foreign sanctions against the city certainly are not patriots.

“Patriots love the country, more specifically, the People’s Republic of China,” the Global Times explained.

Xia expounded on that idea, insisting Hong Kong patriotism is synonymous with absolute loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and dictator Xi Jinping, as quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP):

“Different political opinions are allowed in this country which implements socialist democracy, but there is a red line: one should never do anything that harms the country’s fundamental system; that is, to do something that harms the socialist system led by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

“The CCP is the creator and leader of the ‘one country, two systems’ model. Isn’t it contradictory for someone who claims to safeguard [the model] to oppose its creator and leader?”

Xia said steps had to be taken to effectively prevent those who “oppose China and undermine the stability of Hong Kong”, as well as “agents of anti-China forces” in overseas countries, from taking up positions in the city’s organs of political power, describing it as a “major issue of principle related to the success or failure of the cause of one country, two systems.”

Xia magnanimously allowed that some older Hong Kongers might need help understanding how China works because “after living in a capitalist city for so long,” they do not “know their nation well.”

Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Carrie Lam — who became immensely unpopular during the 2019 protests and the brutal police crackdown against demonstrators — applauded Beijing’s decree that only “patriots” would be allowed to participate in city government, not “troublemakers.”

Lam said Tuesday she understands why officials in Beijing “do not want the situation to deteriorate further in such a way that ‘one country, two systems’ cannot be implemented.”

The New York Times (NYT) on Tuesday warned the still-gestating package of patriots-only rules could “block democracy advocates in the city from running for any elected office” and “quash the few remaining vestiges of political dissent after the anti-government protests that roiled the territory in 2019.”

Beijing’s most immediate goal appears to be purging critics of the Chinese Communist Party from the 1,200-member committee that selects chief executives. Lam’s five-year term will conclude early next year.

“The urgency of the Communist Party’s move suggests a worry that pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong is so strong that the party could lose control of the committee unless it disqualifies democracy advocates from serving,” the NYT wrote.

Beijing is also expected to establish loyalty committees to review candidates for the Hong Kong legislature and other public offices, ensuring that only China loyalists and solid Communists are allowed to participate in elections. The Hong Kong government on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require more stringent loyalty oaths from district councilors and ban candidates who are “deemed insincere or insufficiently patriotic.”

“You cannot say, ‘I’m patriotic but I don’t respect the fact that it is the Chinese Communist Party which leads the country,’” said Erick Tsang, Hong Kong’s secretary for mainland affairs, by way of explaining the defining parameters of “insincerity.”

The SCMP quoted a “government insider involved in the city’s electoral matters” who said September’s legislative elections could be delayed while Beijing rewrites Hong Kong’s electoral laws and implements its “patriot” policies.

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