China forms vetting panel to screen out 'unpatriotic' Hong Kong poll candidates
Under China's overhaul of the electoral system of Hong Kong, a vetting committee has been set up to screen out 'unpatriotic' candidates, which will consider previous actions and words by an individual, according to the city's justice minister.
Hong Kong's Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the new committee would receive advice from the police's national security unit and a commission led by the chief executive and supervised by Beijing, before making a decision, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
She said that the disqualification of candidates may not necessarily indicate a breach of the national security law, adding that discussions on 'national security reasons' would be kept secret while determining the eligibility of a candidate for elections.
The vetting committee, comprising principal officials, will have the power to decide who can run in elections under sweeping changes to the city's political system approved by Beijing on Tuesday.
Committing acts that endangered national security, or that "undermine or have a tendency to undermine the overall interests" of Hong Kong would be considered unpatriotic under the new rules, reported SCMP.
Speaking on the issue of conflict of interest for the chief executive Carrie Lam when she chairs the national security commission, Cheng said that the body was under the supervision of the central government and therefore 'it will not be that anyone can have the final say'.
Reacting to this, Former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the retrogression power was "very threatening" to all candidates, while it was concerning that candidates might never know the true reasons for being disqualified.
"So it's more like a system that the government has all the control... It is not worthwhile taking part in these elections, as no one knows about the criteria, while one may have to bear the consequences of being doxxed and investigated by the national security unit," Lau said.
On Thursday, China's National Peoples' Congress Standing Committee approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong's electoral system which would empower the Election Committee - originally tasked with picking the chief executive - the right to nominate all candidates aspiring to be lawmakers and elect 40 representatives of its own to the city's Legislative Council.
Despite fierce international condemnation, China approved the contentious resolution, a move that critics say could further smother opposition voices in Hong Kong. Several countries have condemned Beijing's move to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system.