In rare step, China bars Hong Kong law­mak­ers from of­fice

Bei­jing’s ac­tion sets a stage for fur­ther tur­moil

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China’s top leg­is­la­ture took the rare step yes­ter­day of in­ter­ven­ing di­rectly in a lo­cal Hong Kong po­lit­i­cal dis­pute by ef­fec­tively bar­ring two legally elected separatist law­mak­ers from tak­ing of­fice, set­ting the stage for fur­ther tur­moil in the semi­au­tonomous 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 ma­neu­ver cir­cum­vented Hong Kong’s courts, where the case is cur­rently be­ing heard, rais­ing fears that the city’s in­de­pen­dent judiciary is be­ing un­der­mined.

The de­ci­sion, while in­tended to nip the rise of bud­ding sep­a­ratism sen­ti­ment, has in­stead raised the specter of en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cal un­rest in Hong Kong, two years af­ter huge crowds of mostly young peo­ple oc­cu­pied ma­jor streets for 11 weeks. Those demon­stra­tions failed to win greater democ­racy but spawned an in­de­pen­dence move­ment. On Sun­day, thou­sands took to the streets to rally against the an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Po­lice used pep­per spray and ba­tons against some um­brella-wield­ing demon­stra­tors try­ing to reach Bei­jing’s li­ai­son of­fice af­ter the march ended. Four peo­ple were ar­rested and two of­fi­cers were in­jured, po­lice said.

‘Hong Kong is not China’

The dis­pute cen­ters on two newly elected 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 mini-con­sti­tu­tion, 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 demo­crat­i­cally 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 Hong Kong’s young peo­ple must be feel­ing help­less be­cause ev­ery protest or col­lec­tive ac­tion they’ve taken “has run into a dead end.” “Ra­tion­ally for young peo­ple the only way out is to fight more rad­i­cally,” he said. At a brief­ing for re­porters in Bei­jing, Li Fei, a deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral of the NPC Stand­ing Com­mit­tee, de­nied that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment was es­ca­lat­ing its in­ter­fer­ence in Hong Kong’s af­fairs. He said the Ba­sic Law stip­u­lates that Bei­jing holds the le­gal power to make in­ter­pre­ta­tions, and it is the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s duty to step in when there is a dif­fer­ence of le­gal opin­ion. He also warned that pro­mot­ing in­de­pen­dence was not a mat­ter of free­dom of speech.

“Break­ing ‘one-coun­try two-sys­tems’ is vi­o­lat­ing the law, not voic­ing a po­lit­i­cal view,” said Li, re­fer­ring to a prin­ci­ple un­der which Bei­jing is sup­posed to let Hong Kong keep its cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem sep­a­rate from main­land China’s un­til 2047. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s stance is ab­so­lute, he said, adding, “There will be no le­niency.” Li also di­rected his com­ments to the in­de­pen­dence move­ment’s core sup­port­ers. “The young peo­ple, I be­lieve af­ter some time will rec­og­nize the true face of those stir­ring up trou­ble be­hind the scenes and learn their les­son,” he said. Ming Sing, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial sci­ence at the Hong Kong Uni­ver­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, said Bei­jing was mak­ing a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate” re­sponse to the threat of a separatist move­ment, given that polls show an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Hong Kong cit­i­zens do not sup­port break­ing away from China or be­lieve it to be re­al­is­tic. But the harsh rhetoric could back­fire and harden frus­tra­tions among the main­stream that doesn’t sup­port in­de­pen­dence but feel in­creas­ingly pulled to­ward anti-main­land po­si­tions, he said. “Af­ter to­day, peo­ple feel one step closer to­ward an au­thor­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety, they feel a greater de­gree of de­pri­va­tion of a fun­da­men­tal right to elect their own leg­is­la­tor,” he said. “Bei­jing has in­di­rectly paved the way for a more imag­i­na­tive, sus­tain­able prodemoc­racy move­ment.” Ed­die Chu, an in­de­pen­dent pro-democ­racy law­maker, said Bei­jing was mak­ing a “need­less in­ter­ven­tion” with its in­ter­pre­ta­tion be­cause Hong Kong’s courts could have han­dled the dis­pute. “They are try­ing to cre­ate a rhetoric about the in­de­pen­dence move­ment” to de­ter those who seek greater self-de­ter­mi­na­tion for the city, Chu said. “And Six­tus and Yau Wai-ching are the first vic­tims in this new le­gal net.”

Youngspi­ra­tion party

Chu, Le­ung and Yau were among a group of pro-democ­racy can­di­dates elected for the first time in Septem­ber who ad­vo­cate greater au­ton­omy for Hong Kong. Le­ung and Yau are mem­bers of the rad­i­cal Youngspi­ra­tion party. They did not re­spond to me­dia requests for com­ment yes­ter­day. Hong Kong’s Bei­jing­backed leader, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun­y­ing, said the gov­ern­ment will fully im­ple­ment the stand­ing com­mit­tee’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion. He told a packed news brief­ing that the Youngspi­ra­tion duo had not only ad­vo­cated in­de­pen­dence for Hong Kong, but “even in­sulted the coun­try and the Chi­nese peo­ple in their words and deeds.” “Their con­duct has caused wide­spread in­dig­na­tion in Hong Kong and across the coun­try,” Le­ung said. Bei­jing of­fi­cials struck a sim­i­lar note in the clos­ing mo­ments of their brief­ing, which took an un­ex­pected turn as Li, the stand­ing com­mit­tee of­fi­cial, de­nounced the oath-tak­ers for us­ing an ar­chaic Ja­panese term to smear the Chi­nese peo­ple. Li de­cried the two as “traitors” and re­counted Ja­panese World War II atroc­i­ties in Hong Kong in graphic de­tail, telling of nurses raped and bod­ies bay­o­neted and tossed into the Hong Kong har­bor. “I hope the peo­ple of Hong Kong won’t for­get the his­tory of Ja­panese in­vaders,” he said. “All the traitors who sell out the coun­try never have good end­ings.”

— AP

HONG KONG: Re­porters try to grab copies of press state­ments of in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Hong Kong’s Ba­sic Law re­leased by an of­fi­cer be­fore a press con­fer­ence at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple in Bei­jing yes­ter­day.

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