Beijing plans to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure “patriots” are in charge, a senior official said.
A draft decision on the reforms will be discussed at China’s biggest political meeting of the year, which began on Friday in Beijing.
The gathering of lawmakers is called the National People’s Congress (NPC) and runs for a week.
The reforms are expected to give Beijing even more control over how the territory is governed.
It comes as 47 pro-democracy activists were charged with “subversion” under a new security law that critics say is being used by Beijing to crush dissent in the city.
The meeting typically happens in early March with nearly 3,000 delegates from all around the country – representing provinces, autonomous regions, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
This means it approves plans and policies that have been decided beforehand by the central government, so we are unlikely to see any major surprises.
The NPC meeting runs in parallel to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a meeting of the most powerful political advisory body in the country. That already began on Thursday, and collectively the gatherings are referred to as the “Two Sessions”.
What do we know about the changes planned for Hong Kong?
Late on Thursday Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the NPC, said the changes had the constitutional power to “improve” Hong Kong’s system.
Hong Kong media later reported that they would include increasing the size of an election committee to select Hong Kong’s leader from 1,200 to 1,500 and the city’s legislature from 70 to 90 seats.
Elections for the legislature would likely be delayed to September 2022, the South China Morning post reported.
He also reaffirmed China’s commitment to “one country, two systems”.
Hong Kong is a part of China, but has been governed under the principle of “one country, two systems”, meaning it has its own legal system and rights including free speech and freedom of press.
But many in Hong Kong and rights groups have accused China of eroding those freedoms and autonomy in recent years. There were months of violent protests in 2019.
Earlier last month, Hong Kong secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Erick Tsang said a bill to “ensure patriots govern Hong Kong” would be tabled in March.
The announcement came after a top Beijing official signalled that changes would be made to make sure Hong Kong was run by “patriots” – a sign that China no longer intends to tolerate opposing voices.