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Beijing says it will change how Hong Kong’s leader is ‘appointed and removed’

A senior Chinese official has highlighted plans to “improve” the system by which Hong Kong’s leader is appointed or removed, after almost five months of anti-government unrest in the Asian financial hub.

Responding to a reporter’s question Friday, Shen Chunyao said the decision had been made during a plenary meeting of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body, which met in Beijing this week.

Shen said Beijing “will improve the system and mechanisms of how the central government appoints and removes chief executives and other main officials” in Hong Kong and Macao.

The system by which the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, “interprets” the de facto constitutions of the two cities will also be improved, Shen said, in order that the central government “can exercise its rights enshrined in the constitution.”

There was no elaboration as to what the changes could mean for incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, or when any changes would be introduced. Lam’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She is not due to finish her current term until 2022.

The statement followed reports that Beijing was considering a plan to replace Lam early in 2020, after widespread dissatisfaction with her handling of the ongoing protests, which have grown increasingly violent and taken a toll on the city’s economy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed those reports as a “political rumor (being spread with) ulterior motives.”

On Friday, Shen also announced other measures with regard to Hong Kong and Macao which had been approved during the plenum — a rare meeting of top Communist leaders at which policies for the years ahead are set.

Shen said that Beijing would improve the legal system and strengthen “law enforcement” in the two special administrative regions, as well as “strengthening” education in the cities.

In particular, educational reforms would focus on “the young so that Hong Kong and Macao compatriots will strengthen their knowledge of the nation and patriotism.” Attempts to introduce mandatory “patriotic education” classes in Hong Kong schools in 2012 led to widespread protests that eventually saw the plan shelved.

Some officials in Hong Kong and pro-Beijing lawmakers have blamed the city’s school system for cultivating a generation of anti-government protesters. The unrest is about to enter its 22nd straight weekend after initial mass demonstrations were launched this summer against a now-shelved extradition bill with China, that was promoted by Lam.

It was announced on Thursday that Hong Kong had officially sunk into a recession. While the economy was shaky due to structural issues and the ongoing US-China trade war, protests may have pushed it over the edge, with the unrest seeing shops close, paralyzing public transport and scaring off tourists.

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