Beijing ruled on Sunday that candidates running for Chief Executive of Hong Kong have to be approved by a panel appointed by the Chinese Communist Party—the latest step in Beijing’s gradual takeover of Hong Kong’s political system. The Wall Street Journal explained the details of how the new system is going to work:
Candidates will need to secure support from at least 50% of members on a nominating committee, and their numbers will be capped in any given race at two or three candidates. Currently, the chief executive is appointed by the central government via a 1,200-member committee heavy on Beijing backers as well as business leaders. Candidates have until now needed to get support from just one-eighth of the panel, which in 2012 allowed a pro-democracy legislator to run as one of three candidates.“Since the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country are at stake, there is a need to proceed in a prudent and steady manner,” Beijing said in its ruling Sunday.
Hong Kong is a problem child for China, and Xi Jinping, in the midst of a flurry of moves to consolidate power, is surely keen to avoid showing weakness in the face of democratic agitations in the city. China had promised universal suffrage to Hong Kong’s residents for the 2017 elections, but had previewed this week’s announcement in a general white paper in June, prompting democracy activists to organize a referendum on democracy in June and an estimated 150,000 people to turn out for street demonstrations in early July. Sunday’s announcement was an expression of Beijing’s resolute insistence that none of that matters, and that it will have the final say in how Hong Kong is ruled.Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. Chinese leaders can confidently tug at their reins at this moment without fear of provoking too much push-back from Western leaders, who are distracted by hotter crises in the Middle East and Ukraine—and who haven’t shown much appetite for standing up to authoritarians in any case.