Bei­jing to in­ter­vene in HK law­maker oath dis­pute

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Bei­jing plans to in­ter­vene in a Hong Kong po­lit­i­cal dis­pute over two young, newly elected sep­a­ratist law­mak­ers in a rare move that is stok­ing fears the Chi­nese-ruled city’s con­sid­er­able au­ton­omy and in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary are un­der threat. Hong Kong’s gov­ern­ment said Fri­day that it was in­formed by China’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment that mem­bers of the coun­try’s top leg­isla­tive panel, the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, will dis­cuss in­ter­pret­ing an ar­ti­cle in Hong Kong’s con­sti­tu­tion cov­er­ing oaths taken by law­mak­ers.

The move fol­lows a provoca­tive dis­play of anti-China sen­ti­ment by the two law­mak­ers, Six­tus Le­ung and Yau Wai-ching, at their swear­ing-in cer­e­mony last month. Bei­jing’s heavy-handed re­sponse could lead to the demo­crat­i­cally elected Le­ung and Yau be­ing dis­qual­i­fied from tak­ing of­fice. Such an out­come would be fa­vor­able to China’s Com­mu­nist lead­ers, who are alarmed by the for­mer Bri­tish colony’s bur­geon­ing in­de­pen­dence move­ment, but is also likely to plunge their trou­bled re­la­tion­ship into fresh tur­moil.

Bei­jing has stepped in with its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Ba­sic Law - the city’s con­sti­tu­tion - on only four oc­ca­sions, most re­cently in 2005. The Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a faxed re­quest for com­ment. China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency said se­nior law­mak­ers Fri­day heard a re­port on a draft “ex­pla­na­tion” of the ar­ti­cle on oath-tak­ing and in­di­cated it would be tabled for re­view dur­ing the cur­rent ses­sion that ends to­mor­row.

Hong Kong’s leader Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying told re­porters he wouldn’t com­ment un­til Bei­jing is­sued its rul­ing. Le­ung and Yau of the rad­i­cal Youngspi­ra­tion party al­tered their oaths to in­sert a dis­parag­ing Ja­panese term for China. Dis­play­ing a flag read­ing “Hong Kong is not China,” they vowed to de­fend the “Hong Kong na­tion.” Le­ung crossed his fin­gers while Yau used the F-word in her pledge.

Their oaths were ruled in­valid but at­tempts at a do-over have re­sulted in may­hem in the leg­is­la­ture’s weekly ses­sions, as the duo and fel­low pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers sparred ver­bally with pro-Bei­jing ri­vals and brawled with se­cu­rity guards try­ing to keep them out of the cham­ber. Hong Kong’s Bei­jing-backed gov­ern­ment has gone to the top court this week with an un­prece­dented le­gal chal­lenge aimed at block­ing the two from tak­ing of­fice. The gov­ern­ment’s ar­gu­ment is that they have de­clined to take the oath.

‘One coun­try, two sys­tems’

It’s un­clear when the judge will rule, but the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to take it one step fur­ther by by­pass­ing the courts has fanned res­i­dents’ fears about Bei­jing’s tight­en­ing hold. “When the sit­u­a­tion is not fa­vor­able for China’s Com­mu­nists, they use pol­i­tics to solve a le­gal prob­lem,” Yau, 25, told re­porters. Le­ung, 30, said a Bei­jing in­ter­pre­ta­tion “brings a lethal blow to the le­gal sys­tem and the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

Wor­ries about the ero­sion of the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” prin­ci­ple, which guar­an­tees Hong Kong civil lib­er­ties such as free­dom of speech and a high level of au­ton­omy un­til 2047, have in­ten­si­fied af­ter re­cent in­ci­dents such as the se­cret de­ten­tion of five book­sellers. A Bei­jing rul­ing would also un­der­mine Hong Kong’s in­de­pen­dent courts by pres­sur­ing judges on their de­ci­sions, ex­perts said.

“The mere threat of in­ter­pre­ta­tion strongly sug­gests that cer­tain of­fi­cials in the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment and Bei­jing are pre­pared to tear down Hong Kong’s civic in­sti­tu­tions - and ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ - merely to achieve the ‘cor­rect’ re­sult,” said Alvin Che­ung, a for­mer Hong Kong lawyer who is now a re­searcher at New York Univer­sity’s US-Asia Law In­sti­tute.

The saga re­flects Bei­jing’s fury about the Youngspi­ra­tion pair’s pro-in­de­pen­dence stance, “given the fact that there have been rhetor­i­cal and le­gal at­tacks at all lev­els against them.” It in­cludes well-or­ga­nized pro-China protests de­nounc­ing the two as traitors and a bar­rage of at­tacks in Bei­jing­con­trolled me­dia, said Sam­son Yuen, a pol­i­tics lec­turer at the Open Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

In the lat­est such salvo, an op-ed Fri­day by the na­tion­al­ist state-run Global Times news­pa­per said: “Dis­qual­i­fy­ing Le­ung and Yau will serve as a nec­es­sary warn­ing to those pro-in­de­pen­dence ac­tivists, and show them the dis­grace­ful end they will come to if they stick with their fatu­ous po­lit­i­cal cause and keep cross­ing the line.” Their ex­pul­sion “re­flects the will of the en­tire na­tion. We are sure the coun­try will make it hap­pen,” it added. —AP

HONG KONG: In this Wed­nes­day, Nov 2, 2016, file photo, newly elected Hong Kong law­mak­ers Yau Wai-ching, cen­ter left, and Six­tus Le­ung, cen­ter right, are sur­rounded by pho­tog­ra­phers out­side the leg­is­la­ture coun­cil. — AP

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