Wang Zhenmin’s remarks come two days after nation’s top legislative body effectively bars pro-independence lawmakers-elect from office over oaths
By Tony Cheung
South China Morning Post
Basic Law Committee member Rao Geping, former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Chen Zuoer, and former Hong Kong government think tank head Lau Siu-kai at the seminar in Shenzhen on Wednesday. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
Beijing’s intervention into the Hong Kong legislative oath controversy will not undermine the city’s judicial independence or its authority to amend local laws, the legal head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong said on Wednesday.
Wang Zhenmin, legal department head of Beijing’s liaison office and a former law dean of Tsinghua University, also urged Hong Kong’s executive, legislative and judicial branches to “work together with Beijing in handling the issue of Hong Kong independence”.
Wang was speaking at a seminar in Shenzhen two days after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the nation’s top legislative body, endorsed an interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 ruling that lawmakers must be “sincere” in taking their oaths of office.
Those who do not comply face instant disqualification, it stated. It effectively disqualified two directly elected pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, who used derogatory language to insult China in their oath-taking last month and is to block advocates of Hong Kong independence from contesting future Legco elections.
On Tuesday, hundreds joined a silent march in Hong Kong organised by the city’s legal profession to protest the intervention, claiming it harmed judicial independence as the ruling pre-empted a local court from ruling on a judicial review sought by the government to disqualify Leung and Yau.
Wang dismissed the concern.
Article 104 relates to pledging allegiance … It’s something Hong Kong authorities could not explain as clearly
“The first three interpretations made by the NPCSC also faced a lot of opposition, with people saying it would undermine judicial independence,” Wang said referring to past rulings by the powerful body.
“But according to the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rating last year, Hong Kong’s judicial independence ranked fourth in the world,” he added. “It’s even higher than Britain’s, which ranked tenth.”
He also dismissed arguments that Beijing’s decision amounted to amending local legislation by adding a requirement of “sincere” oath-taking.
Wang said the interpretation did not usurp Hong Kong’s legislative powers. “Article 104 relates to pledging allegiance at a national level,” he said. “It’s something that authorities in Hong Kong could not explain as clearly.”
The seminar was organised by the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, the central government’s top think tank on Hong Kong affairs.
Association vice-chairman Lau Siu-kai, a former head of the Hong Kong government’s think tank, also spoke at the seminar. He tore into “oppositional forces” in the city.
“Most Hongkongers agreed with the interpretation, but the opposition forces opposed it,” he said. “It showed they’re putting politics above legal principles, and ‘two systems’ above ‘one country’. In fact they just wanted the city’s legal profession to monopolise the power to interpret the Basic Law.”
Meanwhile, Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu said legal cases that had been heard by the Court of Final Appeal would definitely not be revisited.
She was responding to the interpretation’s possible retroactive effect during an appearance on an RTHK programme on Wednesday.
But she implied that a pending High Court judgment on the validity of Yau and Leung’s oaths would be affected.
“Those [cases] that have not reached the Court of Final Appeal must be handled according to the interpretation,” she said.
Tam, a local deputy to the National People’s Congress, also believed the issue of Hong Kong independence would not be resolved simply by an interpretation from Beijing and said she anticipated “street clashes” in the near future.
But retired judge and Hong Kong chief executive aspirant Woo Kwok-hing said whether the interpretation could be applied retroactively was irrelevant to a case reaching Hong Kong’s top court.
“As long as a case has yet to go to trial or is pending appeal, a ruling must be handled according to the interpretation,” he said.
As to suggestions that more pan-democratic lawmakers would lose their seats over their questionable oaths, Woo said the matter should be settled in court. But he insisted judges would only accept challenges based on reasonable grounds.
But former Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah called for a stop to the “witch-hunt” over oaths delivered by pan-democrats, saying the “magnifying glass” scrutiny would not improve the city’s political climate.
The barrister urged the Hong Kong government not to launch additional legal proceedings against lawmakers who might have violated Beijing’s ruling.
Beijing’s Intervention in Hong Kong Election Could Face a Hurdle: Local Courts
HONG KONG — There were no banners. No raised fists. As night fell on Tuesday, more than a thousand protesters dressed in black held a silent march through the central business area of Hong Kong. They took care not to jaywalk. Then they quietly dispersed into the night.
Collectively, the participants in the march had more power than most demonstrators. They were Hong Kong lawyers, angered by China’s move on Monday to effectively rewrite a clause in Hong Kong’s charter in order to prevent two young pro-independence politicians from taking office as legislators.
As a group, Hong Kong’s lawyers say Beijing’s decision to step into a legal case in this city has dealt a blow to its judiciary, famed for its fairness and independence and central to Hong Kong’s success as a global financial hub.
The local bar association called the decision, announced by China’s Parliament, “unnecessary and inappropriate” and damaging to the concept of “one country, two systems” that has allowed this former British colony to maintain considerable autonomy from the mainland since the 1997 handover of sovereignty.
Tags: Baggio Leung, Basic Law, Basic Law Committee, China, High Court, Hong Kong, Hong Kong courts, Hong Kong government, Hong Kong Independence, Hong Kong legislative oath controversy, independence, judicial independence, Legislative Council, Maria Tam Wai-chu, National People's Congress, paranoia in Beijing, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Sixtus Baggio Leung, Wang Zhenmin, Yau Wai-ching