Beijing increases control over Hong Kong despite threats from western sanctions

The Hong Kong government disqualified 12 pro-democracy candidates on Thursday, preventing them from running in an upcoming election. Hong Kong political scientist Ma Ngok said that Beijing wants to increase control over Hong Kong through a series of recent moves.

Question: 12 pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from running in the legislative council election scheduled in September. How do you assess the incident?

Ma Ngok: Some people were surprised by the disqualification of some of the moderate democrats, including four members of the Civic Party. In the past, the targets of government’s disqualification targeted mostly candidates supporting Hong Kong independence or self-determination.

However, now it seems like the Hong Kong government’s net of disqualification has been cast wider. Judging from the situation, it seems that anyone who opposes the national security law would be disqualified and I’m afraid not too many democrats will survive.

Question: What do you think are the intentions behind the Hong Kong government’s move to disqualify so many candidates?

Ma Ngok: It’s clear that this is a politically motivated move that the Hong Kong government wants to use it to prevent the democrats from winning the majority in the legislative council election.

When multiple candidates were disqualified, the choice is to see how many candidates would be allowed to run. Candidates from many different spectrums will likely be disallowed to run, and on top of that, there isn’t always enough time for them to fill in other candidates. This will leave the democrats without much choice, and it will of course help the pro-government side in maintaining the majority.

Question: If many candidates on the opposition side will be disallowed to run in the election, what other channels can they stage opposition against some policies or legislations proposed by the government?

Ma Ngok: It depends on the extent of the government’s oppression. For example, a pro-democracy politician might be jailed and the legislative council might not even take place. Whether the democrats can have other ways to stage opposition against some government policies depends on a lot of things, with or without the disqualification.

Question: Over the last week, we have seen two pro-democracy university professors being sacked, four students being arrested under the national security law, 12 pro-democracy candidates being disqualified and now the government is likely going to announce the postponement of the election. What do you think is behind the series of decisions?

Ma Ngok: I think this is Beijing stepping up control over Hong Kong and trying to send a signal that they are not afraid of the western sanctions. From the series of events that have happened since the imposition of the national security law, it’s very clear that Beijing is telling the western world that they still have strong control over Hong Kong.

Question: Since the law came into effect, we have seen the impact of the law on multiple fronts in Hong Kong. Are there still ways for Hong Kong’s civil society to resist Beijing’s growing desire to control Hong Kong?

Ma Ngok: There are different ways that people have been trying to resist against Beijing, but it depends on what can be allowed. Originally, Carrie Lam claimed that the national security law is going to affect very few people, and only those who incite secession and use violence will be punished by the law.

It is up to Hong Kong people to continue to practice their remaining freedom and try to resist. A lot of people are testing the limits of the law by exercising their rights, but there are of course more and more legal limits. I think many people are still trying to exercise their freedom as usual, and that will be able to help us see how much longer we can maintain the freedom that we used to enjoy.

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Mandarin website.



William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.