China Politics

Beijing could tighten its grip on Hong Kong further, showing lack of concern for international outcry

Key Points
  • Beijing is reportedly considering changes to Hong Kong's electoral system that could prevent pro-democracy politicians from running in local elections.
  • John Marrett, senior analyst at risk consultancy The Economist Intelligence Unit, said Beijing has already made several moves to hold back opposition in Hong Kong.
  • "It does say something about their fears of a later resurgence of political instability, social unrest in the city and it does speak to their lack of concern for international outcry over Hong Kong anymore," he said.
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Analyst says China is 'trying to stamp out' opposition movement in Hong Kong

China's central government might be willing to ignore international outcry over its crackdown on Hong Kong as it reportedly weighs further actions to tighten its grip on the city, one analyst told CNBC on Monday.

Last week, media outlets including Reuters and South China Morning Post reported that Beijing could be considering changes to Hong Kong's electoral system that could limit pro-democracy politicians and prevent them from running in local elections.

The reports came as Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China's State Council, said in a Mandarin-language statement translated by CNBC that "legal loopholes" in Hong Kong's electoral system should be closed so that the city is governed only by "patriots."

Xia said one of the reasons Hong Kong saw an anti-China movement was because the city's important institutions were not fully helmed by "patriots."

This picture taken on December 19, 2017 shows the Chinese (top) and Hong Kong flags hoisted in Hong Kong.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

John Marrett, senior analyst at risk consultancy The Economist Intelligence Unit, said Beijing has already made several moves to hold back opposition in Hong Kong.

"It is notable that they're going much further in proposing these electoral reforms, the details of which we have yet to see," he told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia" on Monday.

"But it does say something about their fears of a later resurgence of political instability, social unrest in the city and it does speak to their lack of concern for international outcry over Hong Kong anymore," he added.

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.

The Hong Kong government has barred at least 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the city's legislative election — which was postponed for one year until September 2021. The government cited the pandemic as the reason for the delay.

In addition, four opposition lawmakers were dismissed from Hong Kong's Legislative Council in November last year — leading others to resign in protest, reported Reuters.

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What is Hong Kong's relationship with China?

Beijing was criticized by several countries — including the U.S. and the U.K. — for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy when it enacted a national security law in the former British colony last year.

The law was implemented on June 30 last year, after months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that sometimes turned violent.

According to a Reuters report citing Hong Kong police, 99 individuals have been arrested so far for suspected violations of the national security law. Over the weekend, 47 pro-democracy campaigners and activists were charged under the law, the news agency reported.

Marrett said Beijing might be trying to "completely eradiate" dissent from Hong Kong.

"They've gone further than most people could have imagined and there's no sign of them stopping anytime soon," he said.