INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Chinese leaders endorsed a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system Tuesday, slashing its number of directly elected seats and ensuring a majority of the city's lawmakers will be selected by a reliably pro-Beijing committee.
The new measures, which bypassed Hong Kong's legislature and were imposed directly by Beijing, are the latest move aimed at quashing the city's democracy movement after huge protests.
Chinese state media said the changes to Hong Kong's Basic Law - the mini-charter that gifted the city special freedoms after its handover by Britain in 1997 - were agreed by China's top decision-making body after "President Xi Jinping signed presidential orders to promulgate the amended annexes".
Under the new measures anyone hoping to enter Hong Kong's political scene will need to be vetted by a powerful committee - and the number of directly elected seats will be slashed from half to less than a quarter.
"The National Security Committee and the National Security Police will provide reports on every single candidate to assist the vetting by the qualification review committee," Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong's sole delegate on China's rubber-stamp parliament, told AFP.
Under the new law, Hong Kong's legislature will be expanded from 70 to 90 seats.
Only 20 of those seats will now be directly elected, down from 35. The majority - 40 - will be chosen by a reliably pro-Beijing committee.
The remaining 30 will be chosen by "functional constituencies" - bodies representing certain industries and special interest groups that have also been historically loyal to Beijing.
The move appears "to run against the spirit of having, free, fair and competitive elections," Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor on politics from the National University of Singapore, told AFP.
"Certainly, giving a police force the power to oversee who can stand for elections is not seen in systems usually deemed democratic in a meaningful sense," he added.
'Combination of punches'
The sweeping changes were approved 167-0 during China's annual NPC meeting around two weeks ago.
That prompted global outrage, with Britain announcing China is no longer compliant with Hong Kong's joint declaration which ahd guaranteed freedoms until at least 2047 and the US railing at the stifling of democracy.
China's leaders have acted decisively to dismantle Hong Kong's limited democratic pillars after massive protests in 2019, imposing a national security law that has been weaponised against the financial hub's democracy movement.
Dozens of campaigners have been prosecuted or jailed, smothering protests in a city that had enjoyed greater political freedoms than the authoritarian mainland under the "One country, two systems" arrangement.
Beijing has trumpeted the electoral reform as the second of a "combination of punches" to quell unrest in the southern city, alongside the blanket security law.
The withering of Hong Kong's democratic freedoms is one of the key fronts opening up between the West and China - which insists the territory is an internal affair.
But the crackdown in Hong Kong, a once-freewheeling financial hub home to hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers, has sent a shudder across the global community.
US President Joe Biden sees the coralling of the city's freedoms as part of a wider China-led assault on democracy and rights, including the treatment of Muslim minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang region.