China prompts Hong Kong back­lash fear

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Gerry Shih and Kelvin Chan

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.

ISAAC LAWRENCE/GETTY-AFP

Hong Kong has seen un­rest in sup­port of two separatist law­mak­ers now barred by China.

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