Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers said on Wednesday they would resign in protest of the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city council after Beijing gave local authorities new powers to further limit disagreement.
The Chinese parliament passed a resolution earlier in the day that allowed the city’s executive to expel lawmakers believed to advocate Hong Kong’s independence, cooperate with foreign forces or threaten national security without having to go through the courts.
Shortly afterwards, the local government announced the disqualification of four parishioners who had previously been barred from running for re-election because the authorities considered their promise of allegiance to Hong Kong not sincere.
The measures will raise further concerns in the West about the level of Hong Kong’s autonomy, promised under a “one country, two system” formula when Britain ended its colonial rule and returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems, this explains its official death,'” Democratic Party President Wu Chi-Wai said at a news conference beginning with all opposition lawmakers holding hands.
“We stand for the people of Hong Kong,” said the chairman of the Democratic Party
Opposition members of the city council, all of whom are part of the moderate old Democrats, say they have tried to oppose what many in Hong Kong see as Beijing’s erosion of freedoms and institutional controls and balances, despite promises of a high degree of autonomy .
“My mission as a legislator to fight for democracy and freedom cannot continue, but I would really go if the people of Hong Kong continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong,” one of the disqualified members of the congregation, Kwok Ka-Ki, told reporters. .
China denies restricting the rights and freedoms of the global financial hub, but the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have moved quickly to stifle disagreement after the government protested against the government in June last year and threw the city into crisis.
The city government said in a statement that the four lawmakers – Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung – were expelled from the assembly for endangering national security.
Hong Kong’s leader in Beijing, Carrie Lam, later told a review that she welcomed different views in the 70-seat legislature, but the law must be applied.
“We could not allow members of a Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law that they could not meet the requirement and condition of serving on the Legislative Council to continue to function,” she said.
Shortly after the disqualification, China’s representative in the city said that Hong Kong must be ruled by loyalists.
“The political rule that Hong Kong must be governed by patriots must be properly protected,” the liaison office said in a statement.
Condemned in both directions
Analysts say that mass resignations take away democracy activists’ access to a forum where they can question decision-makers and make them more accountable to the public.
But staying could have been perceived by their supporters as legitimizing Beijing’s moves and leading to disagreement.
“Both staying and leaving have their own difficulties,” said Ma Ngok, an associate professor of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Concerns about Hong Kong’s promised high level of autonomy, which supports its role as an international financial center, have increased since June 30, when Beijing introduced national security legislation in the city.
The law punishes everything that China considers to be subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Since then, authorities have removed some pro-democracy books from libraries, banned certain songs and other school activities, declared some slogans illegal and cleared the press room of an anti-government newspaper.
This month, eight other opposition politicians were arrested in connection with a legislative meeting in May that went into chaos.
Government supporters say authorities are trying to restore stability in China’s freest city after a year of unrest.