The loss of 19 opposition seats in Hong Kong's Legislative Council doesn't seriously damage the city's prodemocracy movement given the impotence of the assembly, one activist watching events unfold from the U.S. says.
"The rules are being changed overnight," Jeffrey Ngo, a member of the now-disbanded Demosisto student group, told Business Times Friday over the phone. "Beijing has shown that it can just cancel elections, prolong terms and chuck out people that they don't like."
Only two opposition members remain in the 70-seat Hong Kong legislature after Beijing endorsed a new 'patriotism' requirement for lawmakers, resulting in the immediate disqualification of four Legislative Council (LegCo) members and the resignation of 15 more.
Western governments, who discovered late Thursday the news, described the disqualifications as the final nail in the coffin of Hong Kong's ambitions for autonomy.
"One country, two systems is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP's expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong," U.S. national security adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement.
Canada Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called the disqualifications "a further assault on Hong Kong's high degree of freedoms under the China-British Joint Declaration."
"It seems to me that the movement as a whole has already decided that the LegCo is no longer a viable arena to resist government policies," said Ngo, who studies history at Georgetown University.
"Despite winning a higher number of votes - in many cases a majority - the opposition camp has always held a minority number of seats."
Hoping to fight Beijing's influence with the aid of another world superpower, the young lobbyist encouraged the U.S. Congress to pass the Hong Kong Autonomy Act in July and is responsible for pro-democracy activists' recent photo-ops with Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi among others.
According to Ngo, the mass resignation has essentially turned the Hong Kong Legislative Council into a rubber stamp - something the city's Beijing-backed leader vehemently denies.
"There are many occasions even among the so-called pro-establishment members that our proposals do not get through," chief executive Carrie Lam said Wednesday.
Other Hong Kong officials adamantly defended the disqualifications Thursday, saying the four lawmakers could challenge their dismissal in local courts - even though they will most certainly lose, noted Maria Tam, vice chairperson of the Basic Law Committee.
"The [National People's Congress] decided that it would not wait until the cases go to the Court of Final Appeal," Tam said during a Thursday radio program. "It decided that these lawmakers should leave the Legislative Council immediately."
Disqualified candidates and sitting LegCo members have appealed decisions against them in the past, but Ngo sees it as a long, expensive and ultimately futile exercise.
"Legal rulings in Hong Kong, when it comes to political matters like this, are pretty useless because the National People's Congress always has the right to interpret the Basic Law despite what the Court of Final Appeals may say," he said.
The four lawmakers at the heart of the matter, Civic Party members Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung from the Professionals Guild, accepted the outcome with grace.
"If observing the process, protecting systems and fighting for democracy and human rights lead to the consequences of being disqualified, it would be my honor," said LegCo member Dennis Kwok after hearing news of his dismissal.
The movement's best chance of success elsewhere - "the streets are where many changes have taken place historically," said Ngo. "Beijing will now focus on ensuring that mass protests in a post-COVID world do not break out again."