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China proposes changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system

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The flag of Hong Kong flies from a ferry boat on July 2, 1997, a day after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

Romeo Gacad | AFP | Getty Images

Beijing on Friday proposed changes to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system — a widely anticipated move as China tightened its hold on the semi-autonomous region.

Before the proposal was announced, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the start of China’s annual “Two Sessions” parliamentary meeting that the country will “resolutely guard against and deter external forces’ interference” in the city.

The proposed changes include adjusting the size, composition and formation of Hong Kong’s election committee, which selects the city’s leader or chief executive, said state media Xinhua.

Beijing also wants to expand the committee’s function to include electing a “relatively large share” of Hong Kong’s legislative body, and nominating candidates for the body, said Xinhua.

Last week, several media outlets reported that potential changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would hold back Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The city is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle that gives it greater autonomy than other mainland Chinese cities, including limited election rights.

Beijing has been criticized internationally — by countries including the U.S. and the U.K. — for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy that was promised under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system came about a year after Beijing bypassed the city’s legislation to enact a controversial national security law.

Implementation of the law followed months of pro-democracy protests in the city that sometimes turned violent. Chinese officials and state media had often blamed “external forces” for the Hong Kong protests.

Wang Chen, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said on Friday that “rioting and turbulence” in Hong Kong point to “clear loopholes and deficiencies” in the electoral system, reported Xinhua.

The National People’s Congress is China’s top legislature.

Chen added that changes must be made so that Hong Kong is governed only by “patriots,” according to the report.

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