(Fixes typo in first par to ‘formally’)
HONG KONG, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Hong Kong opposition lawmakers, seen as representatives of the moderate pro-democracy voices in the Chinese-ruled finance hub, are expected to formally tender their resignation on Thursday in protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues.
Their dramatic departure removes a key avenue for dissent in Hong Kong, where Beijing’s move to introduce sweeping national security legislation on June 30 and COVID-19 restrictions have quashed the pro-democracy protests which started last year.
“This is yet another example of the Chinese Communist Party trampling on what is left of democracy in Hong Kong,” Chris Patten, the city’s last British governor, said in a statement.
“Once again, (President) Xi Jinping’s regime has demonstrated its total hostility to democratic accountability, and those who wish to stand up for it.”
The Chinese parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday allowing Hong Kong authorities to expel legislators deemed a threat to national security or not holding allegiance to Hong Kong, without having to go through the courts.
Shortly after, the local government announced the disqualification of four assembly members who had previously been barred from running for re-election as authorities deemed their pledge of allegiance to Hong Kong was not sincere.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said the expulsions constituted an assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the move showed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had “flagrantly violated its international commitments.”
“One Country, Two Systems is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP’s expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong,” O’Brien said.
Germany, holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Australia have also condemned the oustings.
The resolution highlights Beijing’s rapid expansion of its influence in the city, which has been China’s most restive since it returned from British rule in 1997, as it pushes for loyalty from all levels of power in the Asian financial hub.
The fate of the opposition has been in doubt since the government, citing coronavirus risks, postponed September’s legislative elections by a year, in a move which critics have said was aimed at killing the pro-democracy camp’s momentum.
Earlier this month, police arrested eight other pro-democracy lawmakers over chaotic scuffles during a legislative meeting in May. (Reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)