China’s top parliamentary body will discuss Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and how it should be interpreted, the Chinese-ruled city government said on Friday, to try to end a crisis over a fledgling independence movement but raising fears among some of legal interference.
The Hong Kong government confirmed that the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress would consider provisions of Hong Kong’s Basic Law related to political allegiance this weekend.
The move comes as the Hong Kong government tries to disqualify two newly elected legislators promoting independence from China, amid growing speculation that Beijing would intervene.
A National People’s Congress delegate in Beijing told Hong Kong media the request to intervene came from the standing committee.
“I believe the reasons involved national unity and territorial integrity,” said Hong Kong delegate Maria Tam, who is also a former legislator.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule with wide-ranging autonomy in 1997, was rocked by street protests calling for democracy in 2014 and more recently by calls for independence, an idea that is anathema to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
The Standing Committee has used such powers before, but many across the political and legal elite of the global financial hub fear any intervention from Beijing will deal a severe blow to Hong Kong’s vaunted judicial independence.
Judicial review underway
The Hong Kong Bar Association said such intervention would undermine international confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“The irreparable harm it will do to Hong Kong far outweighs any purpose it could possibly achieve,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
A separate legal system, along with extensive personal freedoms, is part of the “one country, two systems” formula under which Britain handed Hong Kong back to China.
The move is likely to pre-empt a judicial review under way that could disqualify the two pro-independence lawmakers yet to be sworn in to the Legislative Council.
Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, had their swearing-in oaths invalidated last month over language and a banner that was deemed derogatory to China.
The Hong Kong government has asked the courts to disqualify the two on the basis that they declined to take their oaths of office and do not comply with the Basic Law.
The Hong Kong government statement said the committee would discuss an article in the Basic Law requiring legislators to “swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.”
Our whole election system cannot be messed around like this
Hong Kong University law professor Simon Young warned of a troubling disconnect between Beijing, which wanted action, and the Hong Kong government, which preferred to let the city’s legal system deal with issue.
A government lawyer said during the hearing the dispute “can and should be” resolved by the Hong Kong judicial system, echoing the position of Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.
“We have never been in this situation before … and my worry is that if they act with too much urgency with an interpretation, there could be flaws that will mean a second and third interpretation would be needed,” Young said.
It would be inevitably difficult for a sweeping constitutional interpretation to deal with all the grey areas and nuances of local laws, which provide for extensive freedoms, he said.
New lawmaker Leung, speaking on Wednesday, said Chinese intervention would destroy Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“Our whole election system cannot be messed around like this, even though it is already handicapped,” he said.
“If this logic stands, what’s the point of having elections? Why don’t we just ask Beijing to nominate people for us?”