The arrest of more than 50 democrats in Hong Kong last week intensifies a drive by Beijing to stifle any return of a populist challenge to Chinese rule and more measures are likely, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of China’s plans.
While stressing that plans have not been finalized, the individuals said it was possible that Hong Kong elections — already postponed until September on COVID-19 grounds — could face reforms that one person said were aimed at reducing the influence of democrats.
Both individuals, who have extensive high-level experience in Hong Kong affairs and represent Beijing’s interests, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Beijing’s involvement was “substantial” in driving and coordinating actions with the Hong Kong government, said one of the individuals, a senior Chinese official.
He said the latest arrests were part of a wave of ongoing actions to silence activists and to “make sure Hong Kong doesn’t slide back to what we saw 18 months ago.”
China has been “too patient for too long, and needs to sort things out once and for all,” he said, adding that more tough moves would be rolled out for “at least a year.”
A spokesman for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said the implementation of the National Security Law in June last year had restored stability and reduced street violence.
“The legitimate rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong have been upheld and criminals are brought to justice through our independent judiciary,” he said in an e-mailed response to reporters, without responding to questions about Beijing’s role.
Hong Kong elections were scheduled for Sept. 5 and officials were working to ensure an open, fair and honest poll, he added.
The Chinese government did not respond to requests for comment.
The Chinese official said Beijing remained concerned the opposition could still muster a majority in the legislature should the polls go ahead, given a lingering groundswell of public support.
Chinese officials were now discussing ways to change the electoral system to address “deficiencies” in the political structure, and elections might be further delayed, he said.
The second pro-Beijing source confirmed there were advanced talks on structural changes to Hong Kong’s political system, including possibly curtailing the influence of democrats on a 1,200-person election committee to select the next chief executive next year.
“It will likely shake up the whole political base,” the source said of the reforms.
Lam’s spokesman said authorities were exploring using electronic polling, and setting up polling and counting stations in mainland China to allow registered electors there to vote.
Six senior democratic figures voiced fears over what they described as a grim outlook since the most recent arrests.
Among the next steps might be disqualifying hundreds of democratic “district councilors” who dominate the grassroots political arena; entrenching loyalty to China within the civil service; squeezing businesses whose bosses support the democratic cause; and creeping censorship of the Internet and media under the auspices of national secury, they said.
Yam Kai-bong (任啟邦), a Tai Po district councilor with the localist pro-democracy “Neo Democrats,” said the specter of protracted legal proceedings related to the arrests could scare off, or weaken the opposition camp’s chances in any upcoming election.
VIGILANCE: While two of the cases are family members of a nurse, there is no sign of community spread and the source of infection is identifiable, the CECC said The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported four new domestic COVID-19 cases associated with a cluster infection at a Taoyuan hospital. Since the first case was identified on Tuesday last week, five healthcare workers — two doctors and three nurses — at the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Taoyuan General Hospital have tested positive for the virus. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that two of the four new cases are the husband and daughter of a nurse (case No. 863) who had earlier been confirmed to have COVID-19. The husband (case No. 864)
INCURSION: After 13 PLA aircraft flew into Taiwan’s ADIZ, the US Department of State said that China should rather ‘engage in meaningful dialogue’ with Taiwan US President Joe Biden’s administration on Saturday urged China to stop placing military pressure on Taiwan, while calling on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to engage in peaceful dialogue. The statement by the US Department of State was issued after 13 Chinese military aircraft flew into Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Saturday, the highest number observed in a single day this year, the Ministry of National Defense said. The air force scrambled fighter jets to monitor the Chinese aircraft, issuing radio warnings and mobilizing air defense assets until the planes left the ADIZ. The US “notes
CHANGE OF GUARD: Hsiao Bi-khim’s attendance at Joe Biden’s inauguration will come as a boost to those in Taiwan who feared that the new US administration would be less friendly than that of Donald Trump to the nation Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) is to attend US President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony at the US Capitol after she was invited by the US Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, a news release issued by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US said last night. The news came as a surprise as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been reticent about the matter, while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members had accused the Democratic Progressive Party administration of hedging its bets on the Republican Party. Asked about when Hsiao received the invitation, the ministry did not
FAMILY UNIT: The CECC warned that the eldest sister of the latest case, who also has COVID-19, visited Taoyuan’s Chungping evening market on Tuesday and Wednesday The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported a domestic case of COVID-19, associated with a recent cluster infection at Taoyuan General Hospital, and two imported cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that the latest case (No. 885) is a woman in her 50s, who is the third daughter of case No. 881, a man in his 90s. The woman is the main caregiver of her elderly father, who had been hospitalized earlier this month and was treated by a nurse (case No. 852) from Monday to Thursday last week, he said, adding that