China's parliament is considering changes to Hong Kong's electoral committee, which selects the city's leader, as well as giving it new powers to nominate and elect candidates to the city's legislature, a senior parliament official says.
China will give itself power to veto any candidate for Hong Kong's legislature, according to a draft proposal described by a top Chinese lawmaker that represents a significant blow to the city's already limited democracy.
A Beijing-controlled election committee in the city will be tasked with "electing a large proportion of Legislative Council members and directly participating in the nomination of all Legislative Council members," Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said in Beijing on Friday.
The size, composition and method of formation of the Hong Kong panel would be "adjusted and improved", he said.
Currently, half of Legislative Council's 70 members are directly elected through geographical constituencies, while the other half are indirectly elected through groups representing industries, unions and professions.
Wang said Hong Kong's Chief Executive will continue to be elected by the electoral committee. This is currently its only role.
Wang spoke at the opening of China's annual session of the Congress, which nearly always overwhelmingly approves any proposals put before it.
The 1,200-member election committee in Hong Kong is the same that selects Hong Kong's chief executive and is stacked with Beijing loyalists.
EU warns China
The European Union warned China that it may take "additional steps" in response to Beijing's move to grant itself a veto over the selection of Hong Kong lawmakers.
"The EU calls on the authorities in Beijing to carefully consider the political and economic implications of any decision to reform the electoral system of Hong Kong that would undermine fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principles," a spokesperson said.
National Security Law
China has ushered in a sweeping crackdown against dissent in the former British colony after huge and often violent anti- Beijing protests rocked the city in 2019.
Hong Kong dominated headlines during last year's NPC session, when delegates to the chamber endorsed a tough security law designed to stamp out dissent in the city.
Hong Kong has never been a democracy, something that has helped fuel the protests and resentment towards Beijing.
But until recently it maintained a veneer of choice that allowed a small and vocal opposition to flourish at certain local elections. Generally when Hong Kongers are allowed to vote, they vote in droves for opposition candidates.
In recent years authorities have ramped up the disqualification of politicians either sitting in the city's semi-elected legislature or standing as candidates, based on their political views.
Last month Hong Kong announced its own plans to pass a law vetting all public officials for their political loyalty to Beijing.