China signals plan to take full control of Hong Kong

China’s ruling Communist Party signaled that it is moving swiftly to bring Hong Kong under its full control, with a top official saying Thursday that Beijing plans to alter the system that has allowed the territory to enjoy a level of autonomy for the past 23 years.

After steadily eroding Hong Kong’s political freedoms and independent legal system, the party appears to be preparing to change the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which sets out rights unavailable in mainland China, such as freedom of assembly and the press.

The new language and approach are the clearest indication that Beijing now views the former British colony as a restive region to be brought to heel after months of anti-government protests last year.

“We will ensure the long-term stability of ‘one country, two systems,'” Wang Yang, head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said at the opening of the annual meeting of the country’s top political advisory body. The meeting is the first part of the “Two Sessions,” which will continue Friday with the National People’s Congress, the rubber-stamp parliament.

“We will continue to support the improvement of the implementation of the systems and mechanisms of the constitution and Basic Law,” Wang said in a report to the meeting.

Local media in Hong Kong, including the South China Morning Post, reported Thursday that Beijing will pass a comprehensive national security law in Hong Kong by fiat, bypassing the city’s legislature and chief executive.

The law, which will target subversive activity, appears to be a tailored response to last year’s pro-democracy uprising – which Beijing blamed on secessionist forces and foreign influence. The unrest was sparked by a government proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but grew into a broader rebellion calling for full democracy and opposing China’s efforts to chip away at Hong Kong’s firewall with the mainland.

Wang did not elaborate on what “improvement” meant. But he also referred to the Chinese territory of Macao, a gambling hub where open displays of political dissent are rare and where most leaders tow Beijing’s line.

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