Changes in Electoral System of Hong Kong | 16 Mar 2021

Why in News

Recently, China has made changes in Hong Kong’s electoral system.

Key Points

  • The New Electoral System:
    • Increased Membership of the Legislative Council:
      • The number of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (HKLC) members will be increased to 90, with the additional members also nominated, thereby reducing the share of elected representatives.
      • Currently, only half of the 70 members of HKLC are directly elected and the rest are nominated.
    • Expansion of Election Committee:
      • The Election committee (Hong Kong electoral college) has been expanded to include Beijing-nominated members.
      • The Election Committee, as previously, will be responsible for electing the Chief Executive, and will also choose some of the members of HKLC.
    • New Candidate Qualification:
      • The selection of “patriots” will be ensured by the setting up of a new candidate qualification review committee.
  • Implications:
    • The change will give Beijing-appointed politicians a greater say in running the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), marking the biggest change since the handover in 1997.
    • An increased number of pro-Beijing officials would weaken the power of the opposition to influence the city's leadership.
    • It will erode the political freedoms that distinguished Hong Kong from the mainland under the “one country, two systems” model.
  • Implication for India:
    • Hong Kong is a destination for re-export of Indian goods to the global market.
      • Hong Kong is the fourth largest export market for India.
    • India is of the view that Hong Kong can play an important role in strengthening ties with China, as it is considered a gateway to China.
    • Thus, global tensions due to political unrest in Hong Kong carry consequences for India’s trade with the rest of the world, as well as with China.
  • Criticism:
    • The European Union has condemned the change and warned China of broader sanctions.
    • The G7 termed this move a step towards eliminating dissenting voices and opinions in Hong Kong.
    • All major economies such as the USA, UK, Australia have condemned the move and have urged China to allow a more participatory and representative form of system.
    • The change is non-compliance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Sino-British Joint Declaration

  • About:
    • It is a treaty signed between the United Kingdom and China in 1985 on Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty.
    • According to the treaty, China would reassume control of Hong Kong, which was occupied by Britain after the Opium War in 1840, from July 1, 1997.
      • Opium Wars: The Opium Wars were two wars fought between the Chinese Qing dynasty and European powers. Both the wars were a result of the Qing Dynasty’s attempts to curb the opium trade.
        • The first was fought from 1839-1842 and the second one from 1856 – 1860.
  • Provisions:
    • It stated that China's basic policies regarding Hong Kong "will remain unchanged for 50 years" and ensured a high degree of autonomy to Hong Kong. These policies are stipulated in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
      • Under the Basic Law the Constitution that has governed Hong Kong since 1997 the HKSAR is a part of China but enjoys “a high degree of autonomy” and “executive, legislative and independent judicial power”, except in foreign policy and defence.
      • It also says “the socialist system and policies shall not be practised” in Hong Kong for 50 years.
    • It held that Britain would be responsible for the administration of Hong Kong until 1997 and the Chinese government would give its cooperation.

Way Forward

  • The new legislation has been seen as the final nail in the coffin for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and an erosion of the autonomy guaranteed to the city when it was handed over to China in 1997.
  • With the national security law and the new electoral changes, the space for the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong has been drastically reduced.
  • China must act in accordance with its legal obligations and respect fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.