China on Friday said it would revamp Hong Kong’s electoral system to tighten its grip on the city, a strong move against the region’s democratic governance and freedoms that has incited backlash from critics abroad.
Beijing’s rubberstamp parliament, known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), convened for the first day of its annual week-long meetings on Friday. It unveiled proposed legislation that would “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system by changing the size, make-up and formation of the city’s election committee, which selects its top leader. The committee would also be given wider berth to select a large portion of Hong Kong’s legislative body, as well as nominate candidates, giving Beijing even more extensive control over Hong Kong politics, according to analysts.
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The plan marks a “direct attack” and a “continuing assault” on Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday. It will be almost certainly be approved by the NPC later this week.
The move comes a year after China circumvented the city’s legislative processes to impose a widely decried national security law.
On Friday before the newly proposed legislation was announced, Premiere Li Keqiang paved the way for it by lobbing a warning at detractors in a speech, saying that China would “resolutely guard against and deter interference of external forces” in Hong Kong.
Li also unveiled China’s next five-year plan, the roadmap for the country’s development to 2025. The document said that Beijing will raise annual spending on research and development by 7% each year, a sign of its bid to become ever more self-sufficient in the midst of competition and clashes with countries like the U.S. on technology issues.
Li set a growth target of more than 6% for 2021 — a rate not regarded as a stretch for the world’s second-largest economy despite the fact that it saw its weakest growth in over four decades last year due to the pandemic, at just 2.3%.
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