The press conference in Beijing this morning announcing the interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Photo: Simon Song, South China Morning Post
China’s parliament passed an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law on Monday that says lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China, Beijing’s most direct intervention in the territory’s legal and political system since the 1997 handover.
The ruling is expected to bar two activist lawmakers from taking office in Hong Kong. The prospect of the ruling had sparked protests in the former British territory that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that China’s parliament ruled at the end of a regular bimonthly session that the pair of pro-independence lawmakers could not assume their positions in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council if they refused legal procedures when taking oath of office.
The intervention relates to Article 104 of the city’s mini-constitution, which states that lawmakers must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China when they take office.
It came even before a Hong Kong court had ruled, representing some of the worst privately held fears of senior judges and some government officials in Hong Kong, according to sources close to them.
The move was expected to enrage Hong Kong democracy activists further, a day after hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police in running battles around China’s representative office in Hong Kong.
The scenes on Sunday night were reminiscent of pro-democracy protests in late 2014 that paralyzed parts of the Asian financial center and posed one of the greatest political challenges to the central government in Beijing in decades.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that gave the territory wide-ranging autonomy, including judicial freedom guided by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.
The rift between Hong Kong and Beijing has deepened since Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner during a swearing-in ceremony for the city’s legislative council in October.
Leading members of China’s parliament said on Saturday the two Hong Kong lawmakers-elect had damaged the territory’s rule of law and posed a grave threat to China’s sovereignty and security.
The Hong Kong Bar Association has said an intervention by Beijing now, while a local court was hearing the case, would deal a severe blow to the city’s judicial independence and undermine international confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The oath-taking controversy made waves in the former colony, where the topic of independence from China was once regarded as taboo but has come to the fore since the pro-democracy protests in 2014 that failed to secure any concessions from Beijing.
(Reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING, Greg Torode and Venus Wu in HONG KONG; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait)
In a First, China Moves to Bar 2 Hong Kong Legislators From Office
HONG KONG — The Chinese government effectively barred two young, pro-independence politicians in Hong Kong from taking seats in the territory’s legislature on Monday, an extraordinary intervention in the affairs of this semiautonomous former British colony that could prompt a constitutional crisis and fueled street protests that began hours earlier.
The move came in the form of a rare interpretation of the charter that governs Hong Kong, which was negotiated before the territory’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, and raised questions about the independence of the courts in Hong Kong. The charter gives China’s Parliament the right to issue such rulings, but Beijing has never before done so in a pending case without a request by the local government or courts.
The two politicians, who were elected in September, had changed the wording of their oaths of office, inserting what many consider to be a derogatory term for China. Alarm at Beijing’s move sent thousands of demonstrators into the streets on Sunday night. Hundreds clashed with the police in a scene reminiscent of the large pro-democracy demonstrations in the city in 2014.
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