The news coming out of Hong Kong never gets better, and last week brought a new low.
In a humiliating move ordered by the Chinese Communist Party, Hong Kong’s puppet chief executive, Carrie Lam, unseated four pro-democracy members of the territory’s legislative council on Wednesday.
Ms. Lam was given the power to do so only hours earlier, when China’s government adopted a motion that says any legislator who fails to support Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, or is deemed to have violated an enforced pledge of allegiance, will be summarily ousted.
The unseated councillors have no recourse to the courts or to the territory’s constitution. And Ms. Lam applied the measures retroactively, punishing the four for things they said and did before Beijing’s motion was adopted.
The purge left the 15 remaining pro-democracy members of the Legco with no choice but to resign en masse. How could they stay, when they could be disappeared, democratically speaking, for questioning laws demanded by China, or for filibustering or using other normal parliamentary tactics?
The Legco has been reduced to an absurdity. With the pro-democracy seats empty, there will no longer be anything to prevent the remaining legislators from getting on with the task of giving Beijing everything it wants.
That includes expanding voting rights to former Hong Kong residents living on the Chinese mainland – which critics say is nothing more than a tactic to increase the number of eligible pro-Beijing voters.
The Legco is also looking at eliminating, or drastically modifying, a course taught in Hong Kong high schools about the merits of democracy.
And there is talk of passing a motion stating that Hong Kong has no formal separation of powers, a critical feature of any democracy, and which in Hong Kong provides a check on the power of the Beijing-compliant executive through the elected Legco and the courts.
For the past two years, Beijing has been driving nails into the coffin of the “one country, two systems” agreement it signed with the United Kingdom in 1997; last week’s erasure of pro-democracy legislators is the iron spike that will keep the corpse of Hong Kong’s autonomy interred forever.
You could see it coming. The CCP’s enforcers in Beijing were left reeling in November, 2019, when pro-democracy candidates won a landslide in district council elections.
The district councils don’t have much power; their main function is to advise the Legco and the executive on small local matters. But they also send a handful of seats to the Legco, and the vote was an unmistakable signal of growing support for the pro-democracy movement.
The movement was given new life and new urgency in 2019, after Beijing tried and failed to force through a law that would have allowed it to summarily extradite citizens to the mainland.
Pro-democracy supporters expected their success in local elections to carry through to Legco elections scheduled for this past September. Despite a gerrymandered electoral system that gives a large number of seats to a handful of voters representing Beijing-influenced business interests, the democratic forces appeared to have an excellent shot at securing a majority of Legco seats.
That was not the result China wanted, so, on July 31, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed executive abruptly postponed the vote until 2021, the better to give the central government time to engineer its desired outcome. Beijing also imposed a national security law on Hong Kong on June 30 that has effectively snuffed out pro-democracy demonstrations and led to the arrest of organizers and journalists.
And now the opposition seats in the Legco are empty.
In the United States, there is hope that president-elect Joe Biden will work with allies to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in Hong Kong, as well as for its human-rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims, and for the kidnapping of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
In Britain, the government is threatening sanctions in response to this latest violation of the “one country, two systems” agreement.
But while China might feel some heat in the coming months, it seems unlikely that it will allow the Hong Kong of the past to return. One by one, the territory’s links to the democratic world are being severed.
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