"Patriots governing Hong Kong" is the core of "one country, two systems", a senior official on Hong Kong and Macao affairs said on Monday.
Xia Baolong, head of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, gave a speech at a symposium in Beijing on Monday that centered on improving the institutional framework of "one country, two systems" and implementing the fundamental principle of "patriots governing Hong Kong".
Xia said President Xi Jinping stressed, while hearing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's 2020 work report, that "patriots governing Hong Kong" must be upheld to ensure the steady implementation of "one country, two systems".
This statement is the "profound revelation" on "one country, two systems" and provides a direction for the long-term stability of Hong Kong, he added.
Xia, who is also a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said "patriots governing Hong Kong "means that the political power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must be in the hands of patriots.
He said former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made it clear decades ago when he initiated the "one country, two systems" principle that "the boundary and criterion for Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong is that Hong Kong must be governed mostly by patriots".
The return of Hong Kong to the motherland meant that the Chinese government had taken over sovereignty over Hong Kong and the right to govern Hong Kong had returned to the Chinese people, Xia said.
Sovereignty and the right to rule are inseparable. Only when the right to govern Hong Kong is in the hands of Chinese people who love the motherland and love Hong Kong will China's sovereignty over Hong Kong be reflected, he said, adding that all those who govern Hong Kong must deeply agree that "one country" is the premise and foundation of "two systems", and resolutely oppose foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs.
"One country, two systems" has strong vitality and will always be adhered to alongside the policies of "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong" and the high degree of autonomy, he said.
However, the implementation of the principle has not always been smooth. Anti-China disrupters and radical Hong Kong separatists have entered the governance structure of the region through various elections, including the Legislative Council, the Chief Executive Election Committee and District Councils, and used those platforms to resist the central government, incite discontent toward the Chinese mainland, obstruct the administration of the SAR government and undermine the well-being of Hong Kong people, he said.
One of the major reasons that these rebellious forces could become so rampant was that "patriots governing Hong Kong "had not been fully implemented.
He said patriots are bound to sincerely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests and respect the fundamental system of the State. In the political structure of the region, those who hold important positions, wield important powers and shoulder important responsibilities must be genuine patriots.
He also said the scope of "patriots" is broad and the majority of Hong Kong people have the tradition of love for Hong Kong and the country.
As a diverse capitalist society enjoying a mix of Western and Eastern cultures, Hong Kong may have some residents who have stereotypes and prejudices against the mainland. The central government understands and tolerates their stance and believes that they will clearly distinguish themselves from anti-China separatists.
He called for prompt efforts to improve related systems in the Hong Kong SAR, especially the electoral system, so that "patriots governing Hong Kong" can be effectively implemented.
Han Dayuan, a law professor at Renmin University of China, said Hong Kong's chaos was the result of not being able to fully implement the principle of "patriots governing Hong Kong", which reflected a loophole in the local system.
"So how can we plug the loophole? The most urgent and important task is to improve the electoral system in Hong Kong," he said.
Wang Zhenmin, director of the Center for Hong Kong and Macao Studies at Tsinghua University, said "patriots governing Hong Kong" is not simply a political requirement, but should be reflected in the legal system and mechanism.
He said the chaos and disorder in Hong Kong in recent years had nothing to do with "one country, two systems" or the Basic Law－Hong Kong's mini constitution－themselves, but the key issue was that there must be appropriate people to implement the principle and the law so that the original purpose of introducing the principle and the law can be realized.
Wang, who also attended the symposium, said Xia's speech also conveyed the important message that the central government has received and responded positively to the call from the Hong Kong community for changes to the electoral system.
The aim of the change is not to alter "one country, two systems", but to uphold it and develop it, he said.
Zhang Jian, head of the Institute of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, said it is correct for any country or region in the world to ensure governance by patriots. In 1861 during the Civil War in the United States, a number of members of the House and Senate were disqualified for supporting secession.
In Hong Kong, on the contrary, there have been repeated instances of anti-China forces entering power by using loopholes in the electoral system to engage in acts endangering national security, he said.
The promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong was an important step in ensuring the implementation of the principle of "patriots governing Hong Kong",but it was not enough, he said.
It is also urgent to improve and reform Hong Kong's electoral system because "we have seen for a long time that external foreign forces have used the loopholes, sending a large number of opposition powers into the governance structure who serve as their tools to intervene in Hong Kong affairs and to jeopardize China's national sovereignty", he said.
Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University's Law School in Beijing, said the principle of "patriots governing Hong Kong" must be implemented in all aspects, especially in this year's elections to the Legislative Council and the Election Committee, as well as next year's election of the chief executive, to ensure the security of the local system.
"The discussion on 'patriots governing Hong Kong' and the reform of the electoral system at this symposium made a 'constitutional moment' in the history of 'one country, two systems' and the history of the Basic Law," he said.
"I think that all sectors in Hong Kong, including the patriotic pro-establishment, the centrist and the moderate and rational opposition camp, should consider how they should strive to become patriots, under the clear requirements of 'patriots governing Hong Kong' and the new era of 'one country, two systems', to be a new Hong Kong politician and serve the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong," he said.
Chief Executive Lam said it is natural, necessary, and "not a high standard" to request that those who govern Hong Kong should be patriots.
The SAR government will fully respect and cooperate with the central government in improving the electoral arrangements in Hong Kong, because the political system of the SAR falls under the central government's purview.
Chen Zimo in Hong Kong contributed to this story.