China plans further Hong Kong crackdown after mass arrest: sources

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The arrest of more than 50 democrats in Hong Kong last week intensifies a drive by Beijing to stifle any return of a populist challenge to Chinese rule and more measures are likely, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of China’s plans.

While stressing that plans haven’t been finalized, the individuals said it was possible that Hong Kong elections - already postponed until September on coronavirus grounds - could face reforms that one person said were aimed at reducing the influence of democrats, Reuters reports.

Both individuals, who have extensive high-level experience in Hong Kong affairs and represent Beijing’s interests, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Beijing’s involvement was “substantial” in driving and coordinating actions with the Hong Kong government, said one of the individuals, a senior Chinese official.

He told Reuters the latest arrests were part of a wave of ongoing actions to silence activists and to “make sure Hong Kong doesn’t slide back to what we saw 18 months ago,” when massive demonstrations marked the boldest public revolt against China’s leaders since the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989.

China has been “too patient for too long, and needs to sort things out once and for all,” he added, saying more tough moves would be rolled out for “at least a year”.

The Chinese official said Beijing remained concerned the opposition could still muster a majority in the legislature should the polls go ahead, given a lingering groundswell of public support.

Chinese officials were now discussing ways to change the electoral system to address “deficiencies” in the political structure, he said, and elections might be further delayed.

The second pro-Beijing source confirmed there were advanced talks on structural changes to Hong Kong’s political system, including possibly curtailing the influence of democrats on a 1,200-person election committee to select Hong Kong’s next leader in 2022.

“It will likely shake up the whole political base,” the source said of the reforms.

Any changes to electoral laws to further isolate the opposition would now be procedurally guaranteed with the legislature now controlled by pro-Beijing politicians following a mass resignation of democrats from the legislature last November.

Among the next steps authorities could focus on, they said, are disqualifying hundreds of democratic “district councilors” who dominate the grassroots political arena; entrenching loyalty to China within the civil service; squeezing businesses whose bosses explicitly support the democratic cause; and creeping censorship of the internet and media under the auspices of national security.