Hong Kong's crisis has intensified as a new law imposed by Beijing allowing the disqualification of “unpatriotic” opposition members prompted the entire pro-democracy caucus to quit.
On Wednesday Beijing passed a resolution allowing the city's government to dismiss politicians deemed a threat to national security.
Four sitting legislators were disqualified with immediate effect, with the move signalled as the end of political opposition in the city and “the death-knell of Hong Kong’s democracy fight”.
For the first time since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 the body has almost no dissenting voices.
Minutes after the disqualifying legislation was announced by Chinese state media, the Hong Kong government released a statement disqualifying four pro-democracy legislators.
Among those expelled, were the Civic party’s Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild, lawmakers who had already been barred from running in legislative elections originally scheduled for September.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai told reporters: "We can no longer tell the world that we still have 'one country, two systems', this declares its official death."
"We... will stand with our colleagues who are disqualified. We will resign en masse," Wu Chi-wai said.
“This is an actual act by Beijing to sound the death-knell of Hong Kong’s democracy fight. From now on, anyone they find to be politically incorrect or unpatriotic or simply not likeable to look at – they can just oust you," said legislator Claudia Mo.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the disqualification of the four lawmakers was "rational, reasonable and in line with the constitution and laws".
"This was a necessary requirement for adhering to and improving on 'one country, two systems,' implementing Hong Kong's Basic Law, as well as Hong Kong's National Security Law," he said at a news conference in Beijing.
Small protests broke out on Wednesday evening, including one by Alexandra Wong, a prominent protester known as “Grandma Wong” who disappeared last year before returning in October claiming she had been detained in mainland China. Wong displayed protest signs in the streets of Mongkok and was quickly surrounded by police who reportedly accused her of “inappropriate behaviours in public”.
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called the Chinese resolution "a further assault on Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and freedoms under the UK-China Joint Declaration".
"This campaign to harass, stifle and disqualify democratic opposition tarnishes China's international reputation and undermines Hong Kong's long-term stability."
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has also condemned the resolution.
Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said:"Bulldozing through arbitrary decisions via the Chinese government makes a mockery of the rule of law."
The territory's leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is pro-Beijing and is supported by the central government there.
Speaking to the media, Ms Lam said the four council members who were disqualified had already failed to meet the requirements to stand in the now postponed elections next year.
eferring to the decision-making body of China’s legislature, Lam said the “National People’s Congress standing committee [NPCSC] has made the decision and merely asked the SAR Hong Kong government to make the announcement”, adding that her government would quickly amend its domestic laws to be in line with the decision.
Lam sought to distance the disqualifications from her government’s purportedly pandemic-related decision to postpone this year’s election.
The Chinese government and its surrogates in Carrie Lam's administration have - in recent times - used specific problems as a series of excuses to introduce wholesale, Draconian changes long after the controversy has cleared.
Lam also listed other “unacceptable acts”, including advocacy or promotion of Hong Kong self-determination or independence, soliciting foreign intervention, refusing to recognise Beijing’s exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and expressing any in principle objection to the implementation of the national security law.
The legislative council is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers and the mass resignation of opposition figures – who had flagged their intentions earlier in the day – marked the end of one of Hong Kong’s last forums for open democratic debate.