Improving Hong Kong's Electoral System to Implement the Principle of "Patriots Administering Hong Kong" and Ensure the Steady and Sustained Institution of "One Country, Two Systems"
The electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is an important part of Hong Kong's political system and exerts a major influence on the practice of "One Country, Two Systems." On March 11, 2021, the Fourth Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) of the People's Republic of China approved the Decision of NPC on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong SAR. On March 30, 2021, the 27th Meeting of the 13th NPC Standing Committee approved the revisions to Annex I of the Basic Law on the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive and Annex II of the Basic Law on the Method for the Formation of the Legislative Council and Its Voting Procedures. Building on last year's adoption of the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR, this is yet another important step for ensuring law-based administration in Hong Kong and a significant milestone in the practice of "One Country, Two Systems."
I. Improving Hong Kong's electoral system is essential for achieving full and faithful implementation of the policy of "One Country, Two Systems" and for upholding and improving the system of institutions underpinning this policy.
The successful practice of "One Country, Two Systems" fully proves that this policy is the best solution to Hong Kong's historical issues and provides the best institutions for sustaining Hong Kong's prosperity and stability over the long run. It possesses abundant vitality and offers institutional advantages. This precisely was why the 19th CPC National Congress identified "One Country, Two Systems" and the promotion of peaceful reunification as one of the 14 components of the basic policy for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. It was also why the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee noted that one of the thirteen prominent strengths of China's state institutions and governance system was "upholding 'One Country, Two Systems' to maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao and promote the peaceful reunification of China."
As "One Country, Two Systems" is a pioneering undertaking without precedent in history, various difficulties and challenges are bound to arise in the process of its implementation. Since the handover of Hong Kong, we have seen sporadic phenomenon and problems that have undermined the smooth implementation of "One Country, Two Systems," and even challenged the "One Country, Two Systems" policy and the minimum requirements that it sets. In some particularly serious cases, China's national security and Hong Kong's stability and prosperity have been put in jeopardy. During the disturbances over proposed legislative amendments in 2019, "Hong Kong independence" advocates, violent radicals, and proponents of a "mutual destruction" scheme operated with reckless abandon, engaging in all manner of extremist and destructive activities, while certain foreign forces wantonly criticized Hong Kong and interfered to an excessive degree. Hong Kong was plunged into a protracted state of chaos, in which the rule of law was treated with contempt, society was severely divided, and the economy was dealt a serious blow, while the region's international standing also suffered greatly. These disturbances essentially amounted to the Hong Kong version of a color revolution. With external backing, anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong sought not only to grab administrative power and destabilize Hong Kong, but also to subvert the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and thwart the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
As Hong Kong faced the gravest situation since its handover, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core acted decisively based on a careful assessment of the events. It made the decision to establish the Central Leading Group for Hong Kong and Macao Affairs and took a series of significant measures. On May 28, 2020, the NPC issued the decision on establishing a sound legal system and implementation mechanism to safeguard national security in the Hong Kong SAR and authorized the NPC Standing Committee to formulate legislation on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, a move which closed off the institutional loopholes in the Hong Kong SAR with regard to national security. In July 2020, the Hong Kong SAR government announced the postponement of the seventh Legislative Council election. The NPC Standing Committee quickly followed this with a decision on the Sixth Legislative Council continuing to discharge its duties for at least one year. In November 2020, the NPC Standing Committee issued a decision on the qualifications of members of the Legislative Council, on which basis the Hong Kong SAR government disqualified several members of the Legislative Council. Further to this, the CPC Central Committee also gave its resolute support to the Hong Kong SAR government in holding to account the core figures among Hong Kong's anti-China, destabilizing forces, including Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, and Joshua Wong, and in strengthening efforts to restore order in the fields of education, media, etc. Thanks to the above-mentioned measures, the Hong Kong authorities were able to achieve a shift from chaos to stability and put Hong Kong's development back on the right track.
It is important to recognize, however, that the political environment in Hong Kong remained extremely complicated, with an intense struggle playing out between the anti-China, destabilizing forces there and those who love China and love Hong Kong. Addressing the loopholes and deficiencies in Hong Kong's electoral system thus became yet another urgent task to be carried out in order to safeguard political authority in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong residents walk past a sign that reads "Improve Electoral System, Ensure Patriots Administering Hong Kong" along a busy street, March 31, 2021. PHOTO BY CNS REPORTER ZHANG WEI
Hong Kong's electoral system refers mainly to the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and the formation of the Legislative Council. The basis of these methods was established during the drafting of the Basic Law over 30 years ago, and is mainly reflected in articles 45 and 68 and annexes I and II of the Basic Law. Though these provisions largely conform to Hong Kong's constitutional order as established by the Constitution and the Basic Law, they contain certain inherent shortcomings. As things have developed, the loopholes and deficiencies in Hong Kong's electoral system have become increasingly prominent. First, a continual state of uncertainty has surrounded the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and the formation of the Legislative Council. The revision of these methods is an issue that has confronted the government and society of the Hong Kong SAR every four or five years. It has created space for anti-China, destabilizing forces, who claim to speak in the name of democracy, to sow confusion and incite antagonism, with calls for "dual universal suffrage" as quickly as possible (meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive). This has served only as an accelerant for political turmoil in Hong Kong. Second, the selection methods in question provide an opportunity for anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong to enter the Hong Kong SAR's organs of political power and other governance structures. These methods also make it difficult to effectively prevent external forces from explicitly and surreptitiously interfering in Hong Kong's affairs to engage in activities that undermine China's national security. In November 2019 during the sixth Hong Kong District Council election, anti-China, destabilizing forces used methods of fraud, violence, coercion, and terror to manipulate voter sentiment. After obtaining several District Council seats, they acted with even greater abandon, turning the district councils, which the Basic Law explicitly states are not organs of political power, into highly politicized organizations to be used for incitement, antagonism, and political manipulation. Some members abused their power to turn the district councils into platforms for promoting "Hong Kong independence" and engaging in subversive activities. Before the seventh Legislative Council elections, these same forces flouted the law on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong to organize an illegitimate "primary election" and publicly announced a "ten-step mutual destruction scheme," with a view to seizing control of the Legislative Council and the committee for selecting the Chief Executive. Had they succeeded, they would have then sought to spread chaos and disaster throughout Hong Kong and the rest of China. These incontrovertible facts prove that the anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong are the greatest threat to the cause of "One Country, Two Systems," and spell nothing but disaster for Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
A Hong Kong resident signs a petition in support of improving the electoral system in Wan Chai, March 12, 2021. PHOTO BY CNS REPORTER LI ZHIHUA
To fully and faithfully implement the policy of "One Country, Two Systems," it was essential to improve the system of institutions underpinning this policy. It was essential to revise and improve Hong Kong's electoral system to cut off all avenues to administrative power open to anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong. This was a fundamental step for guaranteeing the steady and sustained institution of "One Country, Two Systems" and the enduring peace and stability of Hong Kong.
II. Improving Hong Kong's electoral system is a concrete manifestation of the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong."
On January 27, 2021, while listening to a work report from the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, President Xi Jinping noted that to ensure the steady implementation of "One Country, Two Systems" in Hong Kong over the long term, it was essential to always uphold the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong," which is a fundamental principle that is crucial to the sovereignty, security, and development interests of our country and to the sustained prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. This important judgment speaks to the great importance of implementing the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong." It is a highly refined distillation of the practice of "One Country, Two Systems" since Hong Kong's handover and an elucidation of the laws underpinning this practice. It set the direction and guiding principles for the revision of Hong Kong's electoral system.
The principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" requires that political power in the Hong Kong SAR always reside in the hands of those who love their country. This is by no means a recent proposal, but was established as an important principle during the initial development of the concept of "One Country, Two Systems." As far back as 1984, Deng Xiaoping put forward the notion of "patriots administering Hong Kong." He remarked that "there must be some requirements and qualifications with regard to the administration of Hong Kong affairs by the people of Hong Kong. It must be required that patriots form the main body of administrators." It is clear for all to see that the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" is not only a necessary requirement but a core component of the policy of "One Country, Two Systems." It became a fundamental political principle and binding political rule as soon as Hong Kong was returned to the motherland, established as a Special Autonomous Region of the PRC, and incorporated into China's national governance system. The principle of "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" refers to those Hong Kong people who are patriots, and is no different from saying that "patriots should administer Hong Kong." Under "One Country, Two Systems," the central government does not send administrators to directly participate in the management of the Hong Kong SAR government. Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy, including administrative and legislative powers, an independent judiciary, and the power of final adjudication. To ensure full and faithful implementation of "One Country, Two Systems," therefore, the region's administrators must be firmly dedicated patriots. That political power should rest in the hands of patriots is a universal norm applied throughout the world. It is a well-established principle that is followed as a matter of course.
The revisions to Hong Kong's electoral system mainly include the following measures: First, the Election Committee of the Hong Kong SAR has been reconstituted and invested with additional powers. The size of the Election Committee has expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 members, with the number of major sectors represented on the committee increasing from four to five. A new fifth sector has been created comprising HKSAR deputies to the National People's Congress, HKSAR members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and representatives of the members of relevant national organizations who are based in Hong Kong. While continuing to nominate the Chief Executive, the Election Committee is also now entrusted with the new functions of electing a relatively large portion of Legislative Council members and directly participating in the nomination of all Legislative Council candidates. Second, a dual nomination mechanism will be used to nominate the Chief Executive. Under this mechanism, candidates for the office of the Chief Executive will be nominated by no less than 188 members of the Election Committee (one-eighth of the total), among whom the number of members from each sector should not be less than 15. A candidate with a valid nomination must have the support of the majority of the Election Committee in order to be nominated Chief Executive-elect. Third, the number of seats on the Legislative Council has increased from 70 to 90. Legislative Council members will be returned by the Election Committee, by functional constituencies, and by geographical constituencies through direct elections, with the Legislative Council electing a relatively large number of seats. Fourth, a candidate eligibility review committee will be established. It will be responsible for reviewing and confirming the qualifications of Election Committee members, Legislative Council candidates, and Chief Executive candidates. Relevant review mechanisms will also be improved to ensure full-process oversight and review of the conduct of relevant persons when running for office, contesting elections, and after their election.
According to the PRC Constitution, the power to establish special autonomous regions and to make decisions about their systems resides with the national government. The revisions made by the NPC and its Standing Committee to Hong Kong's electoral system are well-founded and possess unquestionable supreme authority. The decisions and amendments of the NPC and its Standing Committee will systematically improve Hong Kong's electoral system and provide an institutional guarantee for ensuring the administration of Hong Kong by patriots. On March 11, 2021, the day the NPC adopted the decision on improving the electoral system, an online petition was launched to allow all sectors of Hong Kong society to voice their backing for the decision. In just eleven days, the petition was signed by over 2.38 million Hong Kong residents. On March 30, 2021, the NPC Standing Committee voted unanimously in favor of the amendments to Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law. All of this demonstrates the collective will and desire of the people of China, including residents in Hong Kong, to support the improvement to Hong Kong's electoral system.
III. Improving Hong Kong's electoral system will ensure a brighter future for the cause of "One Country, Two Systems."
Following the systematic revisions to the methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the Legislative Council by the NPC and its Standing Committee, the Hong Kong SAR government acted quickly to enact local legislation, thereby creating a complete set of new election institutions that conform to the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" and the realities of the Hong Kong SAR. This set of institutions achieves the following results: It ensures full respect for the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong and earnestly protects China's national sovereignty, security, and development interests. It respects and guarantees the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong, while also guaranteeing the overall jurisdiction of the central government over Hong Kong. It ensures the fairness and transparency of all types of elections and effectively stops the political agents of anti-China, destabilizing elements in Hong Kong and international anti-China forces from entering Hong Kong's organs of political power and other governance structures. Without doubt, the new electoral system is of major and far-reaching significance for ensuring the steady advance of "One Country, Two Systems" along the right course.
Members of a mainland support team sent to assist with nucleic acid testing in Hong Kong are given a send-off by local residents as they prepare to depart the city after completing their mission. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WANG SHEN
First, it will help to better protect China's national sovereignty, security, and development interests.
This is the fundamental purpose of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy and the enduring objective behind the full and faithful implementation of this policy and the continual improvement to its system of institutions. This round of improvement to Hong Kong's electoral system has addressed the loopholes and deficiencies of the original electoral institutions and erected guardrails for ensuring the security of elections. This provides a firm institutional guarantee that the power of administering Hong Kong will remain firmly in the hand of patriots, thereby effectively safeguarding China's national security.
Second, it will help promote good governance in Hong Kong.
In the more than 20 years since Hong Kong's handover, anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong have done their utmost to obstruct almost every endeavor of the Hong Kong SAR government to promote economic development and people's wellbeing, and have mired Hong Kong in endless political wrangling and antagonism. This has made it almost impossible to address many of the deep-seated problems that have long troubled Hong Kong. The new electoral system will keep these forces out of Hong Kong's governance structures, and allow for the creation of forces within the legislative council that support the Chief Executive and the Hong Kong SAR government. It will reduce political wrangling and antagonism, allow for stronger administrative guidance, enable the government and all sectors of society to devote their energies to economic development and the people's wellbeing, and see everyone working harder to tackle the deep-seated, longterm problems affecting Hong Kong and to promote tangible improvements to people's livelihoods and wellbeing.
Third, it will help Hong Kong to integrate itself into China's overall development landscape.
On the new journey of building a modern socialist nation in all respects, Hong Kong will retain its special status and distinct advantages and continue to play an irreplaceable role as an international financial, shipping, and trade center and an international air hub linking China to the world. Integrating itself into the overall national development landscape is the only way for Hong Kong to properly respond to the once-in-a-century changes affecting the world and to achieve better development. The new electoral system will greatly weaken the destructive power of the anti-China, destabilizing forces, and give Hong Kong strong momentum for aligning itself with China's overall development context, and for combining its strengths with the needs of the country and vice versa. By seizing the historic opportunities created by China's national development strategy, Hong Kong can build fresh momentum, create new development potential, enhance its competitiveness, and make new and important contributions to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Fourth, it will help develop a democratic system with Hong Kong characteristics.
There is no one-size-fits-all model of democracy in the world. As a local administrative region of the People's Republic of China, the Hong Kong SAR should not copy the political systems of other countries, but should instead develop a democratic system that is consistent with its own realities and its constitutional status, and is conducive to equal social participation, the development of capitalism, and sustained prosperity and stability in Hong Kong. The facts will come to show that this is exactly the type of system that is needed by Hong Kong society.
It must be stressed that whether it is the enactment of the law for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong or the improvement of Hong Kong's electoral system, the purpose remains the same — to keep improving the system of institutions under the policy of "One Country, Two Systems," and to ensure the steady and sustained implementation of "One Country, Two Systems" in Hong Kong.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 8, 2021)