China Extends Term of All Hong Kong Lawmakers by at Least a Year

China’s top legislative body affirmed Hong Kong’s unprecedented decision to delay local elections for a year, pushing ahead with the move despite U.S. sanctions against senior officials responsible for the city.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to continue the operations of the current session of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, state broadcaster CCTV reported. The terms of the city’s elected lawmakers would be extended for no less than a year, according to CCTV.

Lawmakers won’t have to retake their oaths and the terms of certain lawmakers who’ve been disqualified from standing for election again would be extended, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung told the media after a meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

While Hong Kong has defended the decision to postpone the election due this year as necessary amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, the U.S. and its allies have joined with local democracy advocates in criticizing the length of the election delay as disproportionate.

The NPC’s decision represents the second time in as many months that China’s parliament has weighed in to interpret the charter set up to ensure Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” after its return from British rule in 1997. In June, the same body handed down a sweeping national security law, which banned several non-violent protest tactics used by democracy activists as part of provisions criminalizing subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The law has strengthened authorities’ hand to clamp down on Hong Kong’s opposition, with police arresting more than 20 activists including media tycoon Jimmy Lai for suspected violations of the measure. Government officials also cited the law in their decision to bar a dozen candidates including four sitting lawmakers including Kenneth Leung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Alvin Yeung from running in September legislative elections.

In response to the decision, 22 lawmakers issued a statement Tuesday evening opposing the extension, HK01 reported. The 22 are all members of the “pan-democrat” camp in the legislature.

The Hong Kong government subsequently decided to delay those elections until September 2021, blaming the spike in coronavirus infections. The postponement was condemned by the U.S. and other Western governments, several of whom have already suspended extradition agreements with the city because of concerns the law curbs defendants’ legal protections.

The U.S. Treasury Department last week announced sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other Chinese officials, drawing counter sanctions from Beijing against several American lawmakers. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. would use “our tools and authorities to target those undermining” the city’s autonomy.

The postponement deprived the opposition of a chance to secure an unprecedented majority on the Legislative Council, which would have delivered a rebuke to Beijing and undercut officials’ arguments that the law has strong public support. Some 63% of residents were opposed to the candidate bans, according to a surveyed released Friday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program.

The election delay raised questions about whether the four sitting lawmakers banned from seeking re-election should remain in office after the NPC extends Legislative Council terms for a year. Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s only representative on the NPC Standing Committee, and other pro-Beijing figures have argued that such lawmakers shouldn’t be allowed to stay on.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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