China’s parliamentary body, The National People’s Congress, on Thursday, approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system. The draft resolution was passed unanimously by 2895 votes to 0 and will tighten China’s grip on Hong Kong‘s legislature.

The new laws will empower Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing electoral committee to select legislators and vet candidates for their “patriotism” before allowing them into office. Critics have called it the latest step to erode Hong Kong‘s democracy.

The new changes will increase the strength of Hong Kong‘s legislature from 70 to 90. Under the previous structure, only 35 of the 70 seats were filled through direct elections. Those seats were generally won by pro-democracy politicians who now face the prospect of being thrown out for being “unpatriotic”.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the decision will only improve the administration in Hong Kong.

“The purpose of the decision was clear cut – It is to adhere and improve the systemic structure of one-country, two-systems and uphold the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong,” he said in his first major press conference of the year after the conclusion of the National People’s Congress on Thursday.

Since 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under a model called “one country, two systems”. Under the deal, Hong Kong has its own mini-constitution and a semi-elected parliament.

However, China has gradually exercised more and more control over the territory since the sustained pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The current legislation comes at the heels of National Security Laws implemented last year that outlawed protests, pro-independence sentiment, and dissent in the city.

In February, 47 people were formally charged with violating the national security law and with conspiracy to commit subversion. In passing the “patriot rule”, China has made an attempt to directly influence Hong Kong‘s democratic process.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, called it China’s “continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong”. He also told Congress on Wednesday that the U.S would “follow through on sanction against those responsible for committing repressive acts in Hong Kong”.

Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council hit back at Antony Blinken and the U.S saying,

“I don’t know that after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, how the U.S. has such moral capital to point fingers at the election institutions of Hong Kong.”

Carrie Lam, the pro-China chief executive of Hong Kong, denied that the legislation eroded Hong Kong‘s democracy.

“I don’t agree that this is a step back for Hong Kong’s work on democracy,” she said at a press conference. “This fixed the loopholes in the existing system that were exploited by some lawmakers allowing unpatriotic people to harm Hong Kong”.

Emily Lau, a member of Hong Kong‘s Democratic Party, is worried that some of the lawmakers won’t be able to fulfill the Communist Party’s definition of Patriotism.

“I don’t know what their definition of patriotism is, and that is the worrying thing,” she said. “Once this (electoral system) is set up, you will lose the confidence of the people, and that’s bad for any government.”