Details of the Beijing-imposed overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system must be interpreted alongside the national security law, the city’s civil service chief has told colleagues, saying they form a “one-two punch” necessary to maintain the “one country, two systems” principle.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said in a Faceboook post on Tuesday he had told government staff in a closed-door meeting that they should work to promote any changes to the system, and make more frequent visits to mainland China to gain a deeper understanding of the country’s development.
Under the revamp adopted one week ago, the city’s Election Committee – originally tasked with picking the chief executive – was expanded to 1,500 members and empowered to nominate all potential lawmaker candidates as well as elect 40 representatives of its own to the Legislative Council.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The number of Legco seats directly elected by residents was also slashed dramatically, from 35 to 20, while anyone hoping to run must now be vetted by a new committee – changes critics have argued would bar most opposition candidates from the race.
But while the changes endorsed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee were notable for their specificity, Nip said they must still be interpreted side by side with the Beijing-imposed national security law, which bans secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
“Both are major measures implemented at a national and constitutional level and related to whether the one country, two system principle can be implemented, as well as whether it can get back to its original intent and purpose,” he wrote.
“The national security law aims to protect national security, while improving the electoral system will ensure that those entering the political system meet the requirements of patriots.
“They are a ‘one-two punch’ that can ensure the long-term stability of the one country, two systems principle, and that’s what the Basic Law preamble mentions: to uphold national unity and territorial integrity, [and to maintain] the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”
Nip added that civil servants, given their crucial role in the administration, should engage in promoting any necessary changes to its systems, and make a point of visiting the mainland to gain a deeper understanding of China’s development.
He said he would continue to meet civil service organisations and colleagues of different ranks to explain the new electoral changes further over the next two weeks.
Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said most city employees – apart from those working in specifically related departments or as policymakers – believed the changes would not greatly affect their day-to-day jobs.
“The rest of us will keep our mouths shut and remain ‘politically neutral’, as after the enactment of the national security law and the oath-taking requirements, most civil servants feel overwhelmed and dare not to speak or share feelings that are not work-related,” he said. “But we are willing to listen and do our jobs whenever we are required in our positions.”
Since October, all 180,000 civil servants have been required to sign a declaration that they will uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. About 200 have refused to take the new oath and now face dismissal pending a review by the Civil Service Bureau.
Leung’s union, along with others representing civil servants, will meet Nip on Wednesday, to hear him explain the electoral reforms.
“I guess the government is trying to rebuild a better relationship with its civil servants, as most unions were a bit dissatisfied with the lack of communication [about the oath-taking arrangement],” he said.
Former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, meanwhile, also addressed the recent electoral reforms on Tuesday, pushing members of the pro-Beijing party he once chaired to aim for the city’s top job.
“Governance in Hong Kong has become more and more difficult. We should contribute to the city’s governance apart from taking seats in Legco,” he told a television programme.
“I think if the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is ambitious enough, it should not aim at just getting those 90 seats [in Legco]. One of its directions [should be joining the government].”
He added that as long as Legco became more stable and smooth over the next term, it was possible the central government could consider adding back seats from geographical constituencies.