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Beijing could tighten its grip on Hong Kong through electoral reforms

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China’s central government might be willing to ignore international outcry over its crackdown on Hong Kong as it reportedly weighs further actions to tighten its grip on the city, one analyst told CNBC on Monday.

Last week, media outlets including Reuters and South China Morning Post reported that Beijing could be considering changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that could limit pro-democracy politicians and prevent them from running in local elections.

The reports came as Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council, said in a Mandarin-language statement that Hong Kong should be governed by people who don’t violate the national security law or challenge the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, according to a CNBC translation.

Xia said one of the reasons Hong Kong saw an anti-China movement was because the city’s important institutions were not fully helmed by patriots. One way to ensure that only those most loyal to China govern Hong Kong is by improving the city’s electoral system through closing relevant legal loopholes, he added.

This picture taken on December 19, 2017 shows the Chinese (top) and Hong Kong flags hoisted in Hong Kong.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

John Marrett, senior analyst at risk consultancy The Economist Intelligence Unit, said Beijing has already made several moves to hold back opposition in Hong Kong.

“It is notable that they’re going much further in proposing these electoral reforms, the details of which we have yet to see,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday.

“But it does say something about their fears of a later resurgence of political instability, social unrest in the city and it does speak to their lack of concern for international outcry over Hong Kong anymore,” he added.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The city is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle that gives it greater autonomy than other mainland Chinese cities, including limited election rights.

The Hong Kong government has barred at least 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the city’s legislative election — which was postponed for one year until September 2021. The government cited the pandemic as the reason for the delay.

In addition, four opposition lawmakers were dismissed from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in November last year — leading others to resign in protest, reported Reuters.

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