China Ink

Sworn enemies

China’s top legislature passed a ruling that barred two pro-independence politicians from taking office in Hong Kong this week


What happened?

Chinese press: The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress voted unanimously to interpret an article in the Basic Law requiring senior government officials – including lawmakers and judges – to “swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” when assuming office. The NPC has ruled that an oath is deemed invalid if the taker is “neither sincere or solemn” and the oath taker will be thus disqualified, says Xinhua.

Foreign press: The New York Times reports that the move came in the form of a rare interpretation of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong. The Communist leadership has made four such interpretations since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. But Monday’s ruling broke new ground, the US newspaper says, as the first time that Beijing had acted in a pending court case without a request from the Hong Kong government or judiciary.

What triggered the move?

Two newly elected legislators Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching refused to swear allegiance, referring to China as “Shina”, China Daily reports, which is a “derogatory archaic Japanese term used to discriminate against China during Japan’s War of Aggression”. The People’s Daily said the “insulting oath” has sparked outrage not only in Hong Kong but across Chinese society as a whole. “This had obviously breached and is a challenge to the Basic Law. The pair are not qualified to be lawmakers,” it opined.

The pair’s behaviour – especially their pronunciation of the word “China” in a way used by Japanese in imperial days – offended more than just the Communist Party’s supporters in Hong Kong, The Economist writes. Leung and Yau also displayed a banner saying ‘Hong Kong is not China’ and Yau mumbled her words to make them sound like the ‘People’s re-fucking’ of China”. It was clear that Beijing had lost patience with Hong Kong’s radicals, the magazine said.

The reaction to Beijing’s intervention?

There was no question that Leung and Yau would be expelled from Hong Kong’s lawmaking body, Global Times reports, and public officers must take the oath strictly in accordance with the NPC’s ruling in future. The pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong has also called for two other elected legislators to be blocked from office because of their own approach to the swearing-in ceremony, and the China Daily quoted a top envoy as saying “Beijing will not allow separatists to join Hong Kong’s legislature”.

It was Beijing’s most severe infringement on Hong Kong’s autonomy since 1997, TIME magazine notes, and thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the intervention. Leung and Yau have so far refrained from making statements as the Hong Kong government is undertaking a judicial review into whether the pair should be allowed to retake their oaths. “Yau has told TIME on several occasions that she is willing to deliver the oath of office as prescribed,” the magazine reports.

What are the different concerns?

The root of the current crisis is that Leung and Yau want a ‘self-determination’ referendum for Hong Kong. China’s unity is Beijing’s core priority and the NPC interpretation makes clear that “Hong Kong independence” will never happen in any circumstance, Xinhua declared.

Hong Kong’s legal system is one of the territory’s main attractions for foreign investors, the Financial Times notes, and some analysts are arguing that the unseating of elected politicians by decree has dealt a serious blow to the territory’s autonomy and rule of law.

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