Hong Kong's democracy is under rising threat from Beijing. Image: Facebook

HONG KONG – Pro-Beijing newspapers and academics are calling for a new political censorship system to bar “people who oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong” from taking part in the city’s elections, a suggestion that if implemented would be another blow to the city’s beleaguered.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) said it would hold a special meeting between January 20 and 22 in Beijing where the issue may be addressed.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported an unnamed Chinese official as saying Beijing leaders were discussing ways to change the electoral system to address “deficiencies” in the political structure or further postpone the Legislative Council elections, which are due in September.

A pro-Beijing source was quoted as saying that the reform would curtail the influence of democrats on a 1,200-person Election Committee to select Hong Kong’s next leader in 2022.

Tam Yiu-chung, the sole member representing Hong Kong in the NPC standing committee, said he had not yet seen any Hong Kong-related issues in the meeting’s agenda and did not know whether such items would be deliberated.

This file photo taken on May 28, 2020, shows Chinese President Xi Jinping voting on a proposal to draft a security law on Hong Kong during the closing session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP / Nicolas Asfouri

A commentary in the People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), on Tuesday said that people should not only applaud the arrest of the 53 people who disrupted Hong Kong with a primary election last July, but also think deeply why the LegCo elections could become a tool for these people to threaten national security and destroy the city’s prosperity.

The article slammed Hanscom Smith, US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, for meeting opposition lawmakers and trying to intervene in the elections. It also criticized Benny Tai, the former Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong, for manipulating the elections by coordinating the candidates of the opposition camp.

“Apart from seriously punishing the anti-China elements who tried to manipulate the elections and collude with foreign powers, we should also build barriers to forbid these people from stealing the ruling power of the special administrative region,” the article said.

When the NPC Standing Committee held a regular meeting in Beijing in late December, pro-Beijing sources said the central government was considering reform of Hong Kong’s election systems and the disqualification of hundreds of pro-democracy district councilors. These moves could be discussed in the NPC Standing Committee’s special meeting next week.

Lau Siu-kai, the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, told several pro-Beijing newspapers on Wednesday that the central government had a plan to reform the electoral system in Hong Kong and could implement it quickly. Lau said there was no need to further postpone the LegCo election.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies. Photo: RTHK

The reform would focus on screening candidates in the future elections, Lau said.

The Hong Kong government should set up a system led by senior officials, including those from the Office for Safeguarding National Security, and check the political backgrounds of all the candidates, instead of relying on returning officers, who are civil servants, as gatekeepers. Such political censorships could be done secretly, he said.

Many countries had changed their electoral systems to prevent foreign powers from intervening in their elections, Lau said. These reforms involved changes in voters’ qualifications, election methods, campaign activities and electoral funds.

Ma Ngok, an associate professor of the Government and Public Administration Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said reforming the system to screen candidates was redundant because returning officers had full power to disqualify candidates.

Even if there was any necessary amendment, it should be proposed and passed by Hong Kong’s lawmakers, rather than the NPC.

Leticia Wong, a district councilor of the Civic Party, said Hong Kong people had the right to vote and stand for election in accordance with Article 26 of the Basic Law. She said Beijing should not bar people from taking part in elections, which were a peaceful and rational way for the public to express its opinion.

Read: Mass arrests signal last gasp for HK democracy

Read: China aims to tighten grip on HK leader election body