Hong Kong lawmaker defends electoral overhaul, claims legislature lacks ‘rational debate’

One Hong Kong lawmaker told CNBC he supports China’s plan to overhaul the semi-autonomous region’s electoral system, arguing that there’s been a lack of “rational debate” in the legislature.

“Since 2014-2015, the quality of LegCo and the way it’s functioning (have) deteriorated rapidly,” Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Thursday. LegCo is short for Legislative Council, which is Hong Kong’s legislature.

Tien, a Hong Kong deputy to China’s parliament National People’s Congress, said there’s been a lack of “rational debate” in the legislature and the political divide in the chamber has hindered the government from passing bills.

“So that touches upon whether the system we have really (has) the final objective of ensuring prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. And at the end, the central government decided that enough is enough — that’s the message I received repeatedly,” he added.

International reactions

The U.S. and the U.K. have condemned the proposed changes.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement last week that “Beijing’s decision to impose radical changes to restrict participation in Hong Kong’s electoral system constitutes a further clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

The declaration was signed before Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It states that Hong Kong will have “a high degree of autonomy,” including legislative and independent judicial power.

Meanwhile, Washington on Wednesday sanctioned 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials who allegedly contributed to undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the latest move by the U.S. “underscores our deep concern with the National People’s Congress March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system.”

In response to Washington’s action, the Hong Kong government said Wednesday it is “extremely disappointed” that the new U.S. administration is interfering in the city’s affairs, which are internal matters of China.  

“As the highest organ of state power, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has the constitutional authority to make the Decisions to improve the electoral system and safeguard national security in the (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) in March 2021 and May 2020 respectively,” said a Hong Kong government spokesperson.

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