China’s top political advisory body formally backs Hong Kong autonomy amid worries of waning freedoms in city

China’s top political advisory body formally backs Hong Kong autonomy amid worries of waning freedoms in city

China’s top political advisory body will formally back Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and governing principles enshrined in its mini-constitution, in a move that could bolster the local government’s credibility amid growing fears over the erosion of the city’s freedoms.

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Thursday proposed about 50 amendments to its charter, including promises to implement the “one country, two systems” and “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” principles and uphold the city’s “high degree of autonomy”.

One of the body’s key tasks is to improve ties and unity with Hong Kong and Macau to “encourage them to contribute to the region’s prosperity and stability, as well as to the motherland’s developments and reunification”.

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Vice-chairman Zhang Qingli tabled the charter amendments at a plenary session of the ongoing lianghui or two sessions, the annual meetings of the CPPCC and China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.

While he did not explain the rationale behind the move, a paper circulated at the meeting said the phrases should be added to the charter because Hong Kong people were integral to Xi’s goal for the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

The move came days after outgoing CPPCC chairman Yu Zhengsheng mentioned one country, two systems, but left out the phrases “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy” last Saturday when he made recommendations for the body’s work in the next five years.

Similarly, the omission of the two phrases by vice-premier Li Keqiang during his annual work report on Monday sparked questions on whether Beijing was less keen on ensuring Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, though President Xi Jinping had stated his commitment to it last October.

At the opening of the 19th Communist Party congress, Xi cited Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong, but said one country, two systems was in the party’s governance ideology and canon. He called for the “comprehensive and accurate” implementation of the principles “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy”.

The changes are expected to be approved when the CPPCC wraps up its meetings on March 15.

With the amendments, the article in the charter concerning Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan will first specify that the CPPCC should “comprehensively and accurately implement the principles of ‘one country, two systems’, ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’, ‘Macau people governing Macau’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’”.

It will then mention unity, and encouragement of Hongkongers and Macanese to “contribute to the region’s long-term prosperity and stability”.

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The article will also say that the CPPCC would “firmly oppose any act that seeks to separate the nation”, in addition to the current point that the body would “promote and take part in the implementation of national policies relating to the reunification of the motherland, and actively liaise with compatriots in Taiwan to foster the realisation of the motherland’s reunification.”

The document distributed at the meeting made reference to the issue, noting that “the realisation of the Chinese dream has become the largest common factor in uniting Chinese people [in the country] and abroad … Uniting the patriots would offer strong and long-lasting support for it.”

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Hong Kong representatives attending the meetings in Beijing welcomed the move. CPPCC delegate Eliza Chan Ching-ha said the amendments now set in stone what Xi had proposed last year and made the role of delegates clearer.

Chan’s colleague, Irons Sze Wing-wai, said the changes showed that there was no need for people to question Beijing’s commitment to the one country, two systems principle.

“The amendment means Beijing will insist on its promises for Hong Kong people to govern Hong Kong, and for the city to enjoy a high degree of autonomy … It will also make the central government’s stance on one country, two systems clearer,” he said.


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