China yesterday moved to grant itself veto powers over selecting Hong Kong's lawmakers, part of a campaign to eliminate dissent and ensure a "patriotic" government in the city following huge democracy rallies in 2019.
Legislation to allow China's communist rulers to vet all election candidates in Hong Kong was tabled at the opening of the nation's rubber-stamp parliament in Beijing.
It came a day after dozens of democracy campaigners in the financial hub -- including former lawmakers -- were jailed under a security law that was passed during last year's parliamentary session.
The new legislation includes a "qualification vetting system" that will promote "orderly political participation", parliamentary spokesman Wang Chen told reporters.
China had committed to giving Hong Kong a degree of autonomy when it reverted from British colonial rule in 1997. But it began moving quickly to dismantle the financial hub's democratic pillars in response to huge and sometimes violent democracy rallies that paralysed the city throughout 2019.
The introduction of the vetting legislation -- expected to be approved next week -- was quickly interpreted as one of the final nails in the coffin of Hong Kong's democracy movement.
The European Union yesterday warned against the proposed reforms.
"The EU stands ready to take additional steps in response to any further serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, which would be against China's domestic and international obligations," the EU said in a statement.
The Chinese congress session opened with an annual address by Premier Li Keqiang, who made no mention of Hong Kong besides Communist Party boilerplate about the city continuing to enjoy a "high degree of autonomy."
However, Li said Beijing stands by the "one China" principle, which states that Taiwan is part of China.
"We will remain highly vigilant against and resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan independence," Li added.
The annual week-long gathering of roughly 3,000 delegates, held in the cavernous Great Hall of the People in Beijing, is China's biggest political event of the year.
The highly choreographed display is held to drive home the unquestioned domestic power of the Communist Party while updating China and the world on its economic, political, environment and foreign policy priorities.
The event takes place with China outpacing other major economies after bringing the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged on its soil, under control through draconian lockdowns and mass testing.
Li said the government was aiming for 2021 growth in the world's second-biggest economy of "above 6 percent".
China's finance ministry, meanwhile, revealed that the nation's military budget -- the world's second largest after the United States -- would increase 6.8 percent in 2021 to 1.36 trillion yuan ($210 billion).
But China's official budget number is widely believed to be lower than true spending.