China’s top legislative body meeting in Beijing is expected to make patriotism as defined by late leader Deng Xiaoping an explicit requirement for Hong Kong lawmakers.
Deng addressed the concept several times over the years, but first publicly broached what it meant for Hong Kong during a meeting with local tycoons and politicians in Beijing in 1984. They were worried the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997 would bring an end to capitalism. Deng sought to reassure them with his “one country, two systems” formula, guaranteeing the city’s distinct economic and political way of life. He stated support for socialism was not a prerequisite for elected office in the special administrative region.
Deng introduced the phrase “love China, love Hong Kong” at the meeting that June, saying patriots must form the main body of the city’s administrators after the handover from Britain in 1997.
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“A patriot is one who respects the Chinese nation, sincerely supports the motherland’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and wishes not to impair Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability … whether they believe in capitalism or feudalism or even slavery,” he said. “We don’t demand that they be in favour of China’s socialist system; we ask only for them to love the motherland and Hong Kong.”
In another meeting with local politicians in October 1984, Deng suggested Beijing would indeed tolerate critics of the Communist Party and China.
“We are not afraid of them, the party will not fall apart because of criticisms, but be alert that they must not take action to create chaos in Hong Kong,” he said.
In April 1987, Deng doubled down on his stance on criticising the party when addressing members of the drafting committee of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
“After 1997, if some people in Hong Kong criticise the Chinese Communist Party and China, we will allow them to do so,” he said. “But if they are turning [words] into action, and seek to convert Hong Kong into a base of opposition to the mainland … we must intervene.”
The notion of “patriotism” resurfaced about a decade later amid Sino-British talks on local elections. A February 1994 white paper released by the British government quoted the Chinese side as suggesting that to “uphold the Basic Law”, anyone seeking a seat in the legislature in 1995 would have to “love China and love Hong Kong”.
To meet the criteria, the candidate would have to support the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong and could not oppose the Basic Law or take part in activities such as attempting to overthrow the Chinese government or undermine mainland China’s socialist system.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee is expected to refer to Deng’s definition of patriotism in a resolution elaborating on Article 104 of the Basic Law. It requires Hong Kong’s leader and lawmakers to swear to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the city as a special administrative region of China when they take office.
Deng’s idea about patriotism has been repeatedly quoted by mainland authorities in recent years, as they touched on Hong Kong issues. He died in February 1997, just months before the July 1 handover.
His name was recently invoked in July, after Hong Kong election officers disqualified 12 opposition figures, including four veteran incumbent lawmakers, from running in Legislative Council elections.
Commenting on the decision, a spokesman for Beijing’s liaison office cited the late leader as saying the bottom line of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” was that “patriots form the main body of administrators”.