Bei­jing move could up­set Hong Kong

Top Chi­nese leg­is­la­ture takes rare step of block­ing sep­a­ratists from tak­ing of­fice

Toronto Star - - WORLD - GERRY SHIH AND KELVIN CHAN THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BEI­JING— A de­ci­sion by China’s top leg­is­la­ture to in­ter­vene di­rectly in a lo­cal Hong Kong po­lit­i­cal dis­pute was in­tended to nip in the bud the rise of sep­a­ratist sen­ti­ment, but it has raised the spec­tre of more po­lit­i­cal un­rest in Hong Kong.

China took the rare step Mon­day of bar­ring two legally elected sep­a­ratist law­mak­ers from tak­ing of­fice, set­ting the stage for fur­ther tur­moil in the semi-au­ton­o­mous city.

Bei­jing moved to deny the two a sec­ond chance to take their oaths af­ter be­ing dis­qual­i­fied on their ini­tial at­tempt last month for us­ing anti-China in­sults and foul lan­guage. But the ma­noeu­vre cir­cum­vented Hong Kong’s courts, rais­ing fears that the city’s in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary is be­ing un­der­mined.

On Sun­day, thou­sands ral­lied against the an­tic­i­pated Chi­nese govern­ment an­nounce­ment. Po­lice used pep­per spray and ba­tons against de­mon­stra­tors try­ing to reach Bei­jing’s li­ai­son of­fice. Four peo­ple were ar­rested and two of­fi­cers were in­jured, po­lice said.

Ma­jor street demon­stra­tions two years ago failed to win greater democ­racy but spawned an in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

The dis­pute cen­tres on pro-in­de­pen­dence law­mak­ers Six­tus Le­ung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, who al­tered their oaths to in­sert a dis­parag­ing Ja­panese ex­pres­sion for China. Dis­play­ing a flag read­ing “Hong Kong is not China,” they vowed to de­fend the “Hong Kong na­tion.” Their oaths were ruled in­valid and sub­se­quent at­tempts have re­sulted in may­hem in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil’s weekly ses­sions as the coun­cil’s pres­i­dent re­fused to let them try again un­til the govern­ment’s le­gal chal­lenge is set­tled.

But Bei­jing de­cided to act more quickly. The Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, the coun­try’s top leg­isla­tive panel, is­sued a rul­ing on a sec­tion of Hong Kong’s Ba­sic Law, or mini­con­sti­tu­tion, cov­er­ing oaths taken by of­fi­cials. It said talk of in­de­pen­dence for Hong Kong is in­tended to “di­vide the coun­try” and se­verely harms the coun­try’s unity, ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty and na­tional se­cu­rity. It also said those who ad­vo­cate in­de­pen­dence for Hong Kong are not only dis­qual­i­fied from elec­tion and from as­sum­ing posts as law­mak­ers but should also be in­ves­ti­gated for their le­gal obli­ga­tions.

It’s the first time Bei­jing has stepped in to block elected Hong Kong law­mak­ers from tak­ing of­fice. It’s also the first time that Bei­jing has in­ter­preted the Ba­sic Law be­fore a Hong Kong court has de­liv­ered a rul­ing on a case. In three of four pre­vi­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions, the NPC Stand­ing Com­mit­tee has de­liv­ered an opin­ion only af­ter the Hong Kong govern­ment or the top court re­quested it.

“For the young peo­ple this is go­ing to def­i­nitely cre­ate a back­lash. This is go­ing to fur­ther fuel the in­de­pen­dence move­ment,” said Sam­son Yuen, a pol­i­tics lec­turer at the Open Univer­sity of Hong Kong. He added that protests and col­lec­tive ac­tion have hit a dead end. “Ra­tion­ally for young peo­ple the only way out is to fight more rad­i­cally,” he said.

The U.S. State De­part­ment ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment over Mon­day’s de­vel­op­ments and voiced strong sup­port for Hong Kong’s Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil and in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary.

KIN CHEUNG/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Law­maker Yau Wai-ching is one of two be­ing kept from tak­ing of­fice.

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