HONG KONG -- China must reform Hong Kong's electoral system to ensure that the city is led by true "patriots," the country's Hong Kong affairs chief said Monday, fueling speculation that Beijing will propose sweeping changes as early as next month.
"Patriots governing Hong Kong" represents the essence of the "one country, two systems" framework for the city, said Xia Baolong, head of China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office. Xia, speaking at a seminar, invoked a phrase about patriotism once used by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
"Patriots" included those who loved China, its constitution and the Communist Party and excluded anti-China "troublemakers", said Xia.
To ensure the success of the framework, Xia called for reforms covering Hong Kong's administrative, legislative and judicial organs, as well as key statutory bodies. These changes must take place under the guidance of the central Chinese government, he said. Xia did not discuss what the changes should entail or when they may occur, but he stressed that key leadership posts in Hong Kong must not go to those who oppose China or seek to sow confusion in the city.
Election reforms may be proposed at the National People's Congress session that starts in March, online news outlet HK01 reported Monday. Changes under consideration reportedly include a ban against "unpatriotic" candidates in Hong Kong elections. The Communist Party government in Beijing is thought to have been concerned by pro-democracy candidates sweeping Hong Kong's local elections in 2019, and it has since claimed major flaws in the city's electoral system.
Other possible moves by Beijing include reducing the number of individuals on the election committee that chooses Hong Kong's chief executive, or increasing the number of districts in legislative elections -- both of which likely would benefit the pro-Beijing faction.
China enacted a national security law in Hong Kong last year, cracking down on pro-democracy activists following large-scale demonstrations in 2019.
Governance by patriots is expected and necessary, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Monday, adding that potential electoral reforms are not intended to pressure any specific political groups.
Still, the possibility of electoral reforms has fueled concerns among pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
"China is trying to change the rules so pro-Beijing candidates win," one pro-democracy activist said. "I don't know if we'd even be able to take part in future elections."