China prompts Hong Kong backlash fear
BEIJING — China’s top legislature took the rare step Monday 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, raising fears that the city’s independent judiciary is being undermined.
The decision was intended to nip in the bud the rise of separatist sentiment, but it has raised the specter of more political unrest in Hong Kong. Major street demonstrations two years ago failed to win greater democracy but spawned an independence movement.
On Sunday, thousands rallied against the antici- pated 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.
The U.S. State Department expressed disappointment over Monday’s developments and voiced strong support for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and independent judiciary.
“We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and government by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.
The dispute centers 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 Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, 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 that those who advocate independence are disqualified from election.
It’s the first time Beijing has stepped in to block elected Hong Kong lawmakers from taking office, or has interpreted the Basic Law before a Hong Kong court has delivered a ruling on a case.
“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.
Hong Kong has seen unrest in support of two separatist lawmakers now barred by China.