STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Communist China says it has democracy, just the kind of democracy where the ruling party always wins. And that form of government is on display today in Beijing.
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INSKEEP: The People's Congress is meeting in a massive hall with much fanfare and not much debate. The rubber stamp legislature will discuss the country's policy plans, and part of their agenda is the continued crackdown on the partial democracy in Hong Kong.
NPR's Emily Feng is in Beijing. Hey there, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: What would the proposed changes allow the central government to do in Hong Kong?
FENG: Two things - Beijing wants to put more of its appointees on an election committee that chooses Hong Kong's top leader, the chief executive, every four years. Now, Beijing already has a huge amount of influence over choosing the chief executive, but now they're looking for total control. And the second thing they want is Beijing also plans to pack Hong Kong's legislature, the Legislative Council, with candidates Beijing either vets or directly appoints itself. Hong Kong's current chief executive, Carrie Lam, who is in Beijing today for the legislative meetings, defended these proposed changes.
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CARRIE LAM: This need to change the electoral system and arrangements in Hong Kong is for - the one single purpose is to make sure that whoever is governing Hong Kong is patriotic.
INSKEEP: What do she and the central government mean by patriotic?
FENG: China's top official for Hong Kong clarified that being patriotic means love for China's ruling Communist Party. And among the proposals being debated this week in Beijing is one that might set up a vetting committee to assess the patriotism of anyone running for office.
Hong Kong was never a democracy. But when people vote, they tend to vote against Beijing there. For example, in November 2019, there was a landslide election where pro-democrats got control of most of the region's community-level councils. And that gave them hope they might even win some legislative seats, which really spooked Beijing. And just this week, Hong Kong's charged 47 activists who organized a related primary with subversion.
INSKEEP: Well, given that that's happening, is it still possible for local politicians to run for office if they have any independence at all?
FENG: People are mixed. I mean, right now, the political opposition in Hong Kong has been practically decimated. Most people are either already in jail, in exile or they've been disqualified by Beijing. But some people I talked to said, on the local level, they will still try to run. I spoke to one district councilor, a community officer named Lo Kin-hei, and he says, despite all of this, he wants to run for re-election.
LO KIN-HEI: We should hang on to any possible platforms that we have. I think we need somewhere to keep the people not having their passion wearing out.
FENG: I mean, after all, Hong Kong's ability to vote for certain offices is a big difference between it and mainland China. But for people like Lo Kin-hei, even if he wants to run, he can only do so if Beijing lets people like him do so.
INSKEEP: Takes some courage. Emily, thanks so much.
FENG: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Emily Feng reporting in Beijing today.
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