Critics say a radical overhaul of Hong Kong’s limited democratic system will destroy what remains of the pro-democracy opposition and ensure only loyalists remain in control.
But the city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has praised China's plan to ensure only "patriots" remain in politics, denying the move was a purge of the opposition and ruling out any need to consult the public on Beijing’s changes.
The move cane just days after Hong Kong was dropped from an annual league table of the world’s most free economies because “policies are ultimately controlled from Beijing”.
The city has now been taken entirely off the Heritage Foundation’s list, which was published on Thursday, just a year after losing the No1 position it had held for decades to Singapore.
The legislation to vet all election candidates in Hong Kong is currently being discussed by China's parliament and is expected to be adopted on Thursday.
"The improvements to the electoral system are not designed to favour someone, it is designed to ensure that whoever is administering Hong Kong is patriotic," Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, said.
"The decision is timely, necessary, lawful and constitutional, and the central authorities' leadership and decision-making power are unquestionable.”
DEGREE OF AUTONOMY
China promised Hong Kong would keep a degree of autonomy and certain freedoms when it reverted from British colonial rule in 1997. The city has a partially elected legislature and China also promised to one day grant residents universal suffrage.
Critics had for years complained freedoms were being steadily eroded. Beijing then ramped up the dismantling of the financial hub's democratic pillars in response to huge and sometimes violent democracy rallies that paralysed the city throughout 2019.
Hong Kong was poised to hold direct elections for half the city legislature's seats last summer but delayed the polls for a year, citing the coronavirus.
On Monday, Lam hinted a further delay was likely given the sweeping changes Beijing is planning.
Hong Kong and Macau have both been removed from the Washington think tank’s list and are now instead listed with China. The compilers said classifying the economy under China was a reflection of Beijing’s “ultimate control” over the city.
In the 2021 index, the foundation said Hong Kong and Macau, both special administrative regions of China, were no longer included because even though citizens enjoy more economic freedom than the average resident of China, "developments in recent years have demonstrated unambiguously that those policies are ultimately controlled from Beijing".
- Reporting by AFP and Reuters