Each are supposedly assured by the one nation, two methods coverage that ruled Hong Kong following handover from British to Chinese language rule in 1997, making the metropolis the solely place in China the place vocal opposition to the Communist Social gathering was protected, or even permitted.

This week, China’s leaders supplied one more weapon for clamping down additional on dissent, giving native authorities, led by Chief Government Carrie Lam, broad new powers to expel lawmakers they deem unpatriotic with out going by way of the courts.

4 pro-democracy legislators had been swiftly ousted from the metropolis’s parliament on Wednesday in the aftermath of the new directive. They are going to be adopted by the entirety of the pan-democrat opposition camp, who introduced their determination to resign en masse in protest quickly after.

Lam, the metropolis’s Beijing-backed chief, has defended the new ruling. At a press convention Wednesday, she mentioned that those that don’t respect China’s sovereignty “can not genuinely carry out their duties as legislators.”

“I welcome various opinion in the Legislative Council and respect the checks and balances,” Lam mentioned, including that, “all of these obligations have to be exercised responsibly.”

The broad new measure is barely the newest encroachment by Beijing on Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy, successfully snuffing out the final remaining avenue for the metropolis’s residents to voice political dissent.

A bit multiple yr on from final summer season’s pro-democracy protests, which at their peak attracted greater than 1 million individuals, Hong Kong is trying much more like China, the place you’ll be able to’t take to the streets, you’ll be able to’t take part in free and open elections, and you’ll’t voice any significant opposition to the authorities with out threat of imprisonment.

Whereas Hong Kong’s legislature will doubtless proceed with a number of pro-Beijing lawmakers finishing up one thing resembling democratic governance, the actuality is prone to be nearer to China’s mannequin of one-party rule.

Neutered legislature

Talking on July 1, 1997, the day Hong Kong formally grew to become half of the Individuals’s Republic of China, Martin Lee, founder of the metropolis’s Democratic Social gathering, referred to as on Beijing to reside up to the guarantees made to its new residents.

Referring to the settlement signed with the British handing over Hong Kong to Chinese language rule, Lee mentioned China’s leaders had promised “we may have an elected legislature and that our freedoms will proceed below the rule of regulation.”

That was over 23 years in the past. Lee is now 82, white haired, and an emblem of the kind of patriotic opposition envisioned by one nation, two methods.

Lee had been half of the sole legislature in the metropolis’s historical past to be absolutely elected, in the final months of British rule, earlier than it was disbanded by Beijing and changed by an appointed physique.

Progress in direction of additional democracy in the ensuing years was scant at greatest. Now, below President Xi Jinping — the strongest Chinese language chief since Mao Zedong, and likewise the most illiberal of any dissent, be it in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, or inside the Communist Social gathering itself — any probability of additional reform has died.

In the months since Beijing imposed the nationwide safety regulation on Hong Kong, it has drastically reshaped the metropolis’s politics. Activists have fled abroad, or gone underground, political events have disbanded, and as soon as acquainted protest indicators and slogans have disappeared, as many individuals train self-censorship fairly than fall afoul of the new regulation.

Whereas there have been sporadic protests this yr, the new regulation, mixed with stringent restrictions on gathering as a consequence of the coronavirus — which stay in drive regardless of Hong Kong’s shortage of instances — has successfully neutered the protest motion, and there was nothing like the unrest seen all through most of 2019.

This renewed focus on the legislature, now the solely potential avenue for stopping additional encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, all however eliminates the metropolis’s remaining formalized opposition to Beijing.

Buoyed by a landslide victory in native elections in November 2019, opposition activists had wild hopes of successful a majority in the Legislative Council. Just below half of the seats in the parliament aren’t democratically elected, however are chosen by enterprise and particular curiosity teams often called practical constituencies, the majority of that are reliably pro-Beijing, however a handful had been believed to be winnable.
On July 31, nevertheless, the metropolis’s chief, Lam, introduced the September elections can be postponed, once more citing the coronavirus. At the similar time, returning officers barred a dozen opposition candidates, together with former scholar protest chief Joshua Wong.

The nationwide safety regulation was given as justification for this, cementing its function as the go to pretext for seemingly any motion the Hong Kong authorities needs to take. The transfer appeared to ensure that the election, at any time when it got here, would ship an opposition in title solely, making the current parliament, prolonged for an additional yr, maybe the final probability to behave as a verify on Beijing-appointed officers.

Even earlier than this week, the metropolis’s legislature had been weakened, maybe fatally. Regardless of thousands and thousands taking to the streets in June 2019 to oppose the extradition invoice that kicked off the unrest, opposition lawmakers had been powerless to cease its passage: the solely factor that did so was the literal blockading of the parliament constructing by protesters.

This ineffectiveness — which led some protesters to name for abandoning elections altogether — didn’t cease Hong Kong officers and Beijing’s representatives in the metropolis complaining about opposition lawmakers trying to filibuster legal guidelines, or staging protests inside the chamber, actions that had been in the end little greater than theatrics, however theatrics that signified a level of opposition that’s not allowed in Xi’s Hong Kong.

Per this week’s ruling by the Nationwide Individuals’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Hong Kong lawmakers who’re deemed to advertise or help the metropolis’s independence from China, or who refuse to acknowledge Beijing’s sovereignty will “instantly lose their {qualifications}.”

The identical will happen for elected lawmakers who “search overseas forces to intervene in the affairs of Hong Kong, or who’ve endangered nationwide safety” and who “fail to uphold the Primary Regulation” — the metropolis’s structure — in addition to those that are deemed “not loyal to the authorized necessities and situations” of the territory.

Claudia Mo, a Democratic Social gathering lawmaker, described the transfer as having “put the nail into Hong Kong’s democracy struggle.”

“From now on, anybody deemed to be politically incorrect is not going to be allowed to run in the election,” mentioned Mo. “They’re ensuring solely patriots can be part of Hong Kong’s political election.”

In his speech 23 years in the past, Martin Lee famous: “Hong Kong is named the Pearl of the Orient. However what’s it that gives the pearl its nice luster? It’s freedom. Freedom exercised to the full by our individuals and assured by the rule of regulation. If our freedom is taken away, the Pearl will lose its luster and certainly its worth to China and the world.”

“The flame of democracy has been ignited and is burning in the hearts of our individuals,” he added. “It is not going to be extinguished.”

This week, it might simply have been.