Beijing move could upset Hong Kong
Top Chinese legislature takes rare step of blocking separatists from taking office
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.
Lawmaker Yau Wai-ching is one of two being kept from taking office.