From swearing to throwing luncheon meat, unprecedented scenes have been playing out in Hong Kong’s lawmaking body – the Legislative Council.
On Wednesday, dozens of lawmakers staged a walk-out ahead of a second attempt to swear in newly elected pro-independence lawmakers.
On the surface, the row is over the oath lawmakers have to take.
But it has brought to the fore the deep divisions between those who accept and those challenging Chinese control.
What exactly is the problem with the oath?
Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle since it was returned to China in 1997.
It means that Hong Kong enjoys certain freedoms not granted to mainland Chinese, but crucially its leader is selected by a mostly pro-Beijing committee.
But in September, two members of the new political party Youngspiration were elected to the LegCo.
They identify themselves as “localists”, a movement which objects to what followers see as a gradual encroachment of mainland China in Hong Kong politics and culture.
These Youngspiration MPs are at the more extreme end of that, and want total independence for Hong Kong.
So they decided they could not swear the oath in its current form, which is this:
“I swear that, being a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, I will uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and serve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity.”
So what did they do instead?
Last Wednesday, when Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25 were being sworn in, they altered the oath to reflect that they do not accept Hong Kong as a territory of China. They swore while saying it and provocatively mispronounced China.
They pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and held up a banner that said “Hong Kong is not China”.
Amid a furore in the LegCo chamber, their oaths were deemed invalid by legislative officials, and the swearing-in was put back a week.
So far so chaotic. So then what?
The government launched an unprecedented legal attempt to delay Mr Leung and Ms Yau’s swearing in until a judicial review.
On Tuesday, the High Court rejected the request for a delay, paving the way for them to be sworn in on Wednesday. But it did agree to a judicial review.
However, on Wednesday dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a walk-out before Mr Leung and Ms Yau were sworn in, demanding that the duo apologise for “insulting our motherland”.
One of them, Holden Chow, told the BBC: “(Mr Leung and Ms Yau) have really gone too far. They actually provoked a lot of Hong Kong people. And also they are simply provoking all Chinese people so they do owe us an apology.”
In retaliation another lawmaker threw pieces of luncheon meat at those walking out.
With them gone, there weren’t enough lawmakers in the room for the oaths to take place.
It’s unclear when the swearing in will now take place.
Mr Leung called the walk-out “stupid”.
“I am not surprised that the government will put a lot of focus on both me and Yau Wai-ching but I think their action is a bit over (the top),” he told the BBC.
The BBC’s Danny Vincent in Hong Kong says the two members of Youngspiration remain defiant but also appeared genuinely nervous about the possibility of losing their seats.
How did Hong Kong get to this point?
In 2014, mass pro-democracy street protests erupted, with thousands taking the streets for weeks demanding fully democratic elections for Hong Kong’s leader.
The Umbrella Movement, as it came to be known, was led by young people who wanted their voices heard.
After the mass demonstrations failed to win any concessions from Beijing, some of those protesters instead entered mainstream politics, to try to enact the change they wanted through constitutional means.
But some took a more hardline view, fearing that Beijing was tightening its grip and influence over Hong Kong and wanting to preserve Hong Kong’s unique culture and freedoms.
In the last elections, a handful of those youth protesters, including both pro-democracy and pro-independence voices, won seats in the LegCo.
Beijing loyalists demand apologies from Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching for ‘insulting’ China with distorted version of oath in region’s legislative council
Dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a walkout from the Hong Kong legislature on Wednesday to stop the swearing-in of two pro-independence politicians.
Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the radical activist Youngspiration party were among five lawmakers expected to redo their swearing-in so they can take office. They were part of a new wave of activist candidates who were elected last month amid a rising tide of anti-China sentiment in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Yau and Leung sparked outrage from the pro-Beijing establishment when their first oaths were rejected by legislative officials last week. On that occasion they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a banner declaring that “Hong Kong is not China”, using language some legislators portrayed as derogatory Japanese slang.
On Wednesday, after two others recited their oaths properly, the pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a walkout, depriving the chamber of the quorum needed to continue. They blasted Leung and Yau for being “disrespectful” and insulting China and demanded they apologise..
The council’s president adjourned the meeting after 15 minutes because there were not enough members to continue. It is unclear when swearing-in will take place.
Senior pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip said she generally disapproved of walkouts, but the legislators had no option after the pair refused to apologise for “insulting our motherland”.
“This is a very exceptional case involving a fundamental principle which involves loyalty to your country and adherence to our oath of upholding the … law,” she said.
Yau said it was the pro-establishment camp that needed to apologise as they were “the ones who really betrayed the Hong Kong people”.
New legislative president Andrew Leung, himself a pro-establishment figure, stood by his defiance of government efforts to ban Yau and Leung. “They are duly elected … and I have a constitutional duty to safeguard their rights to fulfil their duties as legislative council members,” he said.
The government had sought to bar the pair from taking their oaths again but failed in an unprecedented legal attempt on Tuesday to halt the swearing-in. However, high court judge Thomas Au did approve the government’s request for a judicial review of the case, which will take place early next month, in which authorities will formally challenge the decision to allow Leung, 30, and Yau, 25, to retake their oaths.
The pair are part of a new generation of Hong Kong activists determined to force issues of self-determination and independence on to the mainstream political agenda.
Outside the legislature on Wednesday, hundreds of pro-Beijing protesters thronged the grounds, some carrying placards of the pair dressed in Japanese army uniforms that denounced them as “traitors” and “dogs”. Others chanted that the pair must step down to protect China’s “dignity”.
At the legislature’s opening session a week ago, the duo and two other pro-democracy lawmakers modified their oaths, which call for lawmakers to pledge allegiance to the “Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China”.
Leung and Yau had mispronounced China as Shina, an archaic Japanese term for the country that is seen as derogatory. Leung crossed his fingers while taking the oath while Yau pledged allegiance to “the Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Refucking of Shina”.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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