As pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong continue to push for a greater say in the election of the city's leader, top officials in mainland China closed discussion on the matter, claiming any restrictions placed on the vote are done so for national security.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, is set to have its first direct vote of the city's chief executive in 2017, but Beijing says a nominating committee must approve the candidates. Democracy advocates fear Hong Kong will only have pro-Beijing candidates to choose from, defeating the purpose of the election.
Last week, chairmen of China's Basic Law Committee Li Fei met with Hong Kong lawmakers in the mainland city of Shenzhen on the city's electoral reform. In the seminar, Li said that “the person who governs Hong Kong must be a patriot” or the city is at risk of turning into an independent political entity.
Siu Sin-por, the head of the Hong Kong Central Policy Unit, further elaborated that because China has adopted a single-party system, national security is equivalent to the security of the Chinese Communist Party's leadership in China. The Beijing government would therefore not accept anyone who advocates for the demise of the single-party system as a candidate for chief executive.
Benny Tai, one of the leaders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a protest movement that plans to stage a massive sit-in in Hong Kong's financial district if citizens are not allowed to choose the candidates, rebuked Beijing’s government's view on the movement's website. He cited the city's constitution known as the Basic Law:
The “Basic Law” has a clear definition of “national security” in article 23. Acts that threaten national security are treason, separation of the state, sedition, subverting the central government of China and stealing national secrets. According to this understanding, how would universal suffrage without pre-selection by a nominating body in the election of the chief executive threaten national security? […]
Whosoever takes up the role of chief executive has to follow the Basic Law to exercise power. The chief executive is only responsible for domestic affairs and the central government retains the authority over military defense and diplomacy. The line is clear. The duties of the chief executive include nothing that touches upon the issue of national security. If the chief executive overreaches his authority, given enough evidence, the central government can dismiss him even if he poses no threat to national security.
In order to make sure the candidates of chief executive are patriots, the Beijing government wants to introduce a pre-election mechanism, which means all candidates have to obtain more than 50 percent of the votes from the nominating committee in order to become a legitimate candidate. The standing committee of the National People Representative Conference is now having a meeting in Beijing and it is very likely that they will take a hard line on Hong Kong's election laws by requiring that candidates are screened and approved before the actual election.
Benny Tai believed that such mechanism would in fact undermine national security as the central government would have to manipulate the formation of the nominating committee to make sure that they control 50 percent of the vote. The manipulation process would stir up conflicts in different sectors. He pointed out there are smarter suggestions put forward by law experts and pro-government politicians:
To prevent those who threaten national security for running the chief executive, some have put forward a smarter proposal. Joseph Chan, former head of the School of Law at Hong Kong University, suggested an integrity check mechanism to ensure the candidates’ character and conduct are intact. The integrity check mechanism is in place for the appointment of top government officials. Anthony Wu, a member of the the standing committee of the Nation Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultation Conference, suggested a “vote down mechanism” in the nominating committee — if 30 percent of members or more vote against a potential candidate and the “vote down suggestion is supported by 60 percent of members of more, the candidate has to withdraw from the election.
He Weifang, a Beijing University law professor, shared Benny Tai’s view and wrote on popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo (his post has since been deleted; below is copied from a BBC Chinese report):
According to the Basic Law, the requirement for Hong Kong's chief executive, in addition to nationality and age, is stated in article 47: “[the chief executive] should be a person of integrity and dedicated to his duties”. There is no such written criteria as “love the country and love Hong Kong”. The requirement put forward by the standing committee of the National People Representative Conference is not legally well-grounded.
Chik Punshing, a blogger at citizen media platform inmediahk.net, believed that the rhetoric of “national security” is just to protect the ruling class’ interest:
National security is just an excuse to stir up patriotic emotional responses. This will help the ruling class to manipulate the framework of the nominating committee. It is clear that manipulating a small group of people is much easier than 3 million voters. And closed-door manipulation is easier than open manipulation. […]
Behind the excuse of national security are interest groups. They don’t represent the country, not even the Chinese Communist Party. Once they manage to manipulate the chief executive election, they control the government and the distribution of power. Look at the Northeast New Territories, the Lungmei Beach, the West Kowloon district, the high-speed railway, the Lantau Island [note: all the cited examples are very controversial developmental projects]. Someday, after they extracted all the value [out of the development projects], the capital, no matter if red or black, will just leave. They don't care about “love the country and love Hong Kong”. The whole thing is like an emotional scam.
[…] The central Chinese authorities know the situation best, just take a look at the recent crackdown on Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, as well as their corrupted network [all of them claim to love the country].
Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers vowed that they would vote against the Hong Kong government's reform package if universal suffrage contains a pre-election mechanism. Over the weekend, they attended “Hike for democracy” (see photo on top) to demonstrate their determination to fight for genuine democracy in Hong Kong.