Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition lawmakers have resigned en masse in protest against the ousting of four of their colleagues after Beijing gave local authorities fresh powers to quash dissent.
The Chinese parliament adopted a resolution earlier on Wednesday allowing the city’s executive to expel legislators deemed to support Hong Kong independence bypassing the courts.
Moments later, Hong Kong authorities announced the disqualification of four assembly members who had previously been barred from running for re-election, as authorities deemed their pledge of allegiance to the city was not sincere.
Although the city’s Legislative Council was already dominated by pro-Beijing politicians, today’s resignations mean Hong Kong’s legislature will have virtually no dissenting voices for the first time since Britain ended its colonial rule and returned the city to China in 1997.
The moves will raise further concern in the West about the curbing of the autonomy promised to the city under the “one country, two systems” formula introduced when the financial hub returned to Chinese control.
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems, this declares its official death,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-Wai told a press conference.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab condemned the expulsion of pro-democracy lawmakers as an “assault” on the freedoms afforded to the city that would “stifle” opposition.
“China’s decision to arbitrarily remove elected pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators from their positions represents a further assault on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms under the UK-China Joint Declaration,” Raab said.
“This campaign to harass, stifle and disqualify democratic opposition tarnishes China’s international reputation and undermines Hong Kong’s long-term stability,” he added.
China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
The city government said in a statement the four lawmakers were ousted from the assembly for endangering national security. Shortly after the expulsions, China’s representative office in the city said it had to be ruled by loyalists.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam, later told a briefing she welcomed diverse opinion in the 70-seat legislature but the law had to be applied.
“We could not allow members of a Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law that they could not fulfil the requirement and the prerequisite for serving on the Legislative Council to continue to operate,” she said.