China’s top legislative body is prepared to override Hong Kong’s legal authority in a controversy over two local politicians who insulted China in the city’s legislature, denouncing such acts as a threat to national security.
The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said Saturday it would issue its own interpretation of Hong Kong’s miniconstitution as Beijing “cannot afford to sit idle” when faced with challenges to its authority over Hong Kong, according to the government-run Xinhua News Agency.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong to rally against China’s plan to intervene in the furor. The protests grew occasionally tense as some protesters rattled police barricades. Local media and news wires said police used pepper spray to push back the crowds. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests
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Hong Kong started legal proceedings Thursday over whether its legislature should allow two politicians who advocate for greater Hong Kong autonomy to take office, after the pair staged an anti-China protest at their swearing-in ceremony last month.
Beijing’s interpretation of the relevant provision in Hong Kong’s Basic Law would supersede any local court ruling and Hong Kong lawyers have expressed concern that such an intervention would undermine the city’s semiautonomous status.
The NPC Standing Committee, which added deliberations over the Basic Law to its agenda during a regular meeting this past week, said its intervention was “timely and necessary” to prevent a nascent Hong Kong independence movement from damaging the city’s “stability,” Xinhua reported.
The two politicians, democratically elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in September, “have hit the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security,” the Standing Committee said, according to Xinhua.
In October, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung attempted to swear in as Legislative Council members while modifying their oath of office to pledge to defend a “Hong Kong nation,” displaying a banner stating “Hong Kong is not China,” and using a derogatory term for China.
The council barred their oaths, while their subsequent attempts to retake their oaths were rebuffed by the council president pending a local court ruling on whether the two had disqualified themselves from office.
The legal proceedings center on article 104 of the Basic Law, which states that legislators must swear allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.”
The Standing Committee discussed a draft interpretation of that article on Saturday, the details of which weren’t disclosed in Xinhua’s report. The committee is expected to vote on the interpretation before its meeting concludes Monday.
As China’s decision loomed, protesters gathered Sunday in central Hong Kong to march in the streets, carrying banners and shouting slogans.
“We are here to oppose the Chinese government’s so-called re-explanation of the law,” said Sunny Chan, 38, who works in the investment field.
Some protesters see it as a move by Beijing to undermine the rules established when Hong Kong was handed over to China by the U.K. in 1997.
“I want them to keep the agreement of the basic law, give us universal suffrage and keep the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ as it was listed,” said Chris Fan, who works for an IT firm.
Still, others held modest expectations for what the march would achieve.
“I don’t think marching will do any good,” said Ives Cheng, 25, who is unemployed. “It’s just an act to demonstrate our anger.”
Beijing’s ruling would be only the fifth time since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997 that China has interpreted the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s miniconstitution. On previous occasions, Beijing has issued rulings—upon request from the city’s government—over the right of abode in Hong Kong and how many years the city’s top official should serve after his predecessor resigned midterm.
This time, however, Hong Kong authorities hadn’t asked China to issue an interpretation, local government lawyers and legislators said.
Beijing’s move to rule in the matter would “deal a severe blow to the independence of the judiciary and the power of final adjudication of the Hong Kong court,” the Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement Wednesday.
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