The flag of Hong Kong flies from a ferry on July 2, 1997, the day after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

Romeo Gacad | AFP | Getty Images

Beijing on Friday proposed changes to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system – a widely anticipated move as China tightened its hold over the semi-autonomous region.

Before the proposal was announced, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said at the start of the annual “Two Sessions” session in China that the country would “resolutely protect and deter” external interference in the city. “

The proposed changes include adjusting the size, composition and formation of the Hong Kong Election Committee, which selects the city’s leader or executive director, according to Xinhua state media.

Beijing also wants to expand the committee’s function by electing a “relatively large portion” of the Hong Kong legislature and nominating candidates for the committee, Xinhua said.

Last week, media such as Reuters reported that possible changes to the Hong Kong electoral system would hold back pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The city is governed by the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives it more autonomy than other cities in mainland China, including limited voting rights.

Beijing has been criticized internationally – by countries like the US and the UK – for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy promised under the One Country, Two Systems framework.

The proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system came about a year after China circumvented the city’s law to enact a controversial national security law.

The law was implemented after months of protests for democracy in the city, which sometimes turned violent. Chinese officials and state media have often said that “outside forces” were behind the protests in Hong Kong.

Wang Chen, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said Friday that “unrest and turmoil” in Hong Kong indicates “filling in gaps and imperfections” in the electoral system, Xinhua reported.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) is China’s highest legislature.

Chen added that changes need to be made so that Hong Kong is ruled by only “patriots”, according to the report.

Witman Hung, a Hong Kong MPC for the 13th NPC, told CNBC’s Capital Connection that China has always assumed that “Hong Kongers who are patriots” will run the city. The Chinese leadership is confident of running Hong Kong, he added.

“Until recently, nobody questioned it,” he said on Friday. “What we found is that the assumption may not be … true.”

He said the violent unrest and “subversion and secession plans” were “beyond imagination” 20 years ago.

He also defended China’s right to make changes in Hong Kong, noting that the legal framework and constitution of the city were enacted by the NPC.

“If you look at this from a legal point of view, I mean that this is perfectly legal and consistent,” he said.

– Abigail Ng of CNBC contributed to this report.