China Moves to Purge Hong Kong's Last Pro-Democracy Lawmakers

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has passed new legislation allowing the immediate expulsion of Hong Kong lawmakers considered unpatriotic or a threat to national security, a decision that appears to mark the end of any official political opposition to Beijing's authoritarian rule over the territory.

China's National People's Congress—the country's top legislative body and rubber stamp for the CCP leadership—passed the measure Wednesday, banning any lawmakers who supports Hong Kong independence, refuses to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over the territory, or seeks help from "foreign countries or foreign forces to interfere in the affairs of the region."

The measure also has a broad clause allowing the expulsion of any Legislative Council lawmakers engaged in "other acts that endanger national security."

Four pro-democracy lawmakers— Civic Party's Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Dennis Kwok, and Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild—were expelled minutes after the new legislation was announced by Chinese state media.

All four had already been banned from running in legislative elections scheduled for September. The LegCo's remaining 15 opposition lawmakers soon followed through on Monday's joint threat to resign if there were any disqualifications.

Wednesday's developments thus appear to mark the end of pro-democracy presence in Hong Kong's top legislative body.

Yeung spoke with Newsweek soon after being expelled from the LegCo. Asked why he thought Beijing had made its move now, he replied: "I cannot guess, it's not up to us to speculate. There could be lots of reasons but again, there could be no reason."

Regardless, Yeung said the move was "entirely unhealthy." He explained: "If you look at it in the bigger picture, if people cannot express themselves freely, they cannot take to the streets and they cannot do it by choosing their own representatives or their representatives are now being barred from serving, then what else can they do?"

The new legislation comes months after the NPC passed a broad national security law that effectively criminalized anti-Beijing dissent in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy campaigners and lawmakers said the law effectively marked the end of the "One country, two systems" agreement that has afforded Hong Kongers more political and economic freedoms than those on the mainland since the territory was handed over to Chinese control by the U.K. in 1997.

The national security law has made life more dangerous for the city's pro-democracy protesters, who last year regularly brought the city to a standstill and brought millions of people onto the streets to push back against Beijing's encroachment.

Authorities have used the national security law to arrest dozens of people and apply pressure on Hong Kong's media and political spheres.

Wednesday's new legislation will deepen concerns about Hong Kong's slide into CCP authoritarianism. Amnesty International, for example, said Wednesday the move is "yet another example of the Chinese central government's campaign to silence dissent in the city by any means."

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam—who survived the pro-democracy convulsions despite speculation she may be forced to resign by the CCP—said Wednesday that the NPC's decision is binding on Hong Kong.

She also told reporters: "We are more excited when bills are passed more efficiently" when asked about the potential disappearance of pro-democracy opposition in the LegCo.

Yeung told Newsweek that he remains hopeful that the pro-democracy movement can achieve its goals, despite Beijing's ongoing offensive against it. "I am still faithful to Hong Kong people," he said. "It could take a bit longer, god knows when."

"But I do not see how the spirit is going to fade away," Yeung added. "People might do it in a more wise or clever way. They might hide themselves from expressing their true thoughts."

HOng Kong, legco, China CCP, pro-democracy
Pro-democracy lawmakers join hands at the start of a press conference in a Legislative Council office in Hong Kong on November 11, 2020, after four of them were stripped of their seats immediately, after China gave the city the power to disqualify politicians deemed a threat to national security. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty