‘Patriots’ Only

There’s “no need for sudden shifts” in economic policy this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, at the closing of the The National People’s Congress.

China, he went on to remark, is “obviously optimistic about the economy,” but officials in Beijing are also “realistic.” Contrary to media reports, the country’s target for growth (above 6%) is “not low.”

He’s right. It’s not “low.” It’s just lower than consensus, and suggested, to some anyway, that China is either concerned about the outlook, sandbagging so they can clear the target, intends to pursue tighter monetary policy in order to facilitate the deleveraging push, or some combination of the three. And then there are those who claim it’s a total sham and that trying to reconcile China’s countless priorities both economic and political is like trying to force 1 plus 1 to equal 3.

One thing was clear enough after the NPC, though: Hong Kong will never be the same. Electoral “reforms” passed on Thursday effectively strip away the last vestiges of democracy in the city. Beijing will now run Hong Kong’s elections. Going forward, only “patriots” will have a say in Hong Kong.

“A vetting committee will be established to review potential candidates for the committee and LegCo, effectively barring opposition candidates not deemed sufficiently ‘patriotic,'” SCMP wrote, adding that, “to implement the decision, the NPC Standing Committee will also amend Annex I and Annex II of Hong Kong‘s basic law [while] 117 seats on the Election Committee elected by the city’s district councillors are expected to be scrapped, further diluting the opposition’s influence.”

The revamped structure paves the way for what Beijing is calling a “democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics.” You’d have a hard time conjuring a more misleading euphemism. Since the implementation of the new national security laws, Hong Kong has become synonymous with the mainland in many institutional respects. “One country, two systems” became “one country, one system” or, shortened, “one country,” after Beijing finally decided to quell successive waves of protests which set the city ablaze (figuratively and literally) beginning in 2019.

Earlier this week, Yang Yirui, chief of the Chinese foreign ministry’s office in the city, told foreign diplomats to avoid challenging the revamp. “Driven by political motives and ideological bias, a few countries have made irresponsible remarks and even threats to meddle with the central government’s decision to improve the electoral system,” he said, warning that such “attempts are doomed to be futile.”

That latter contention is probably true. Outside of sanctions, options are limited. As FT pointed out Thursday, the aggressive move to commandeer the electoral system casts a pall over a planned meeting between the Biden administration and Chinese officials billed as an opportunity for the world’s two superpowers to “reset” relations after four years of Trump.

“The move will sharpen the two countries’ confrontation over Beijing’s repression of the territory’s pro-democracy movement only a week before Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan meet their Chinese counterparts for the first time,” Demetri Sevastopulo, Tom Mitchell, and Primrose Riordan wrote. Earlier this week, Blinken told Congress that Biden would “take action against egregious violations of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong.” This is an “egregious violation” if ever there was one.

But, again, there’s only so much the western powers can do. The Trump administration repeatedly ran into the realities of international finance when pondering a possible weaponization of the dollar to punish Beijing. Ultimately, wild ideas like attacking the HKD peg were tossed aside for being… well, for being wild. The still insular nature of China’s mainland financial system means attempts to leverage the dollar are doomed to hurt Hong Kong more than Beijing. A military response is clearly not an option.

UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab called the election overhaul “the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself.” Raab went on to warn that “this can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations.”

Carrie Lam was characteristically hapless in her efforts to soften the blow. “After the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’ is fully implemented… we will be able to resolve the problem of the LegCo making everything political in recent years and effectively deal with the reckless moves or internal rifts that have torn Hong Kong apart,” she said, in a ridiculous statement.

“What is meant by ‘patriots’ or who would decide who gets that label remained unclear,” Bloomberg, which has a considerable staff presence in Hong Kong, dryly noted. “A senior Chinese diplomat in Hong Kong said this week that patriots were expected to ‘respect the Chinese Communist Party.'”

In a rather stark piece published by the BBC Thursday, John Sudworth (whose Twitter bio features a Global Times quote describing him as “Someone with a serious political prejudice and a mental issue”) wrote that,

The symbolism couldn’t have been starker. Seated in the Great Hall of the People, 2,895 delegates voted in favor of the changes, none against. Whether the one abstention was a miscue on the electronic voting buttons, or a lone act of defiance, we’ll never know.


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6 thoughts on “‘Patriots’ Only

  1. Xi Jinping is only 67 years old and therefore, could easily have another 20 years in office.
    It is quite frightening to think about what could happen in the South and East China Seas, including Taiwan. After that is firmly under Xi’s control what will be next?
    Taking control over international waters- which are not only important for shipping but very rich in minerals- while the rest of the world (playing by a different set of rules), basically stands by and does nothing.

  2. US is hypocritical of others when every red state is trying to reduce voting rights of people of color. Trump and now Biden condone murder by a Saudi prince. Hong Kong was taken from the Chinese so England could have a port to continue selling opium to the Chinese.

    1. Yes, Western powers are frequently hypocritical with a history of racism and imperialism.

      Should that excuse the Chinese government’s power play in Hong Kong (breaking the agreement they signed about the former colony’s status)? Or their human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority?

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