Hong Kong is reminded that the freedoms it enjoys are ultimately at the whim of Beijing.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is an 18th Century trumpet call for free speech, one often repeated by parliamentarians around the world… but never in China.
The message from Beijing to its unruly territory 2,000km (1,350 miles) south is, by contrast, “we disapprove of what you say and we hereby decree that you have no right to say it”.
China has now spoken on the question of whether elected members of Hong Kong’s legislature can use that public platform to campaign for ideas offensive to China and the answer is a resounding no. In a unanimous decision by a panel of the Communist Party-controlled national parliament, Hong Kong has been reminded that the freedoms it enjoys are ultimately at the whim of Beijing.
Today’s “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution is one of the most significant interventions in Hong Kong’s legal system in two decades of Chinese rule. It is the first time China’s parliament, without the request of either the Hong Kong government or Court of Final Appeal, has interpreted the mini-constitution at a time when the issue is under active consideration in a Hong Kong court.
Why didn’t China’s politicians wait till after a court ruling on whether two legislators might be allowed to retake their oaths? Li Fei, the chairman of the Basic Law Committee of China’s parliament, made the logic clear when he said the Chinese government “is determined to firmly confront the pro-independence forces without any ambiguity”.
The interpretation is a highly confrontational move which plunges Hong Kong into a new phase of its long running political and constitutional crisis. But Beijing’s move comes in response to an equally confrontational move from the other side.
The two lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who used their swearing-in ceremony to insult China and talk of a “Hong Kong nation” should have known that a Chinese government so sensitive to questions of national pride and dignity would feel it had no choice but to act.
It was no surprise when China’s parliament said their words and actions had “posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security”, with Li Fei adding: “The central government’s attitude is absolute. There will be no leniency.”
A price worth paying
The scope of Monday’s interpretation will raise inevitable questions about whether China is interpreting Hong Kong law, which is allowed, or re-writing it, which is not. And apart from disqualifying the two young legislators at the heart of the crisis, it will raise a raft of questions about the way in which some of the other newly elected young democracy activists took their oaths.
For example, does reciting the oath in slow motion or using eccentric intonation contravene the interpretation’s insistence on “genuine” sincerity and solemnity? Who will decide? And if Beijing doesn’t like the decision of a Hong Kong court, what will it do next? For that matter, where does Beijing’s intervention leave the ongoing review of the oath taking question in Hong Kong’s courts? Read the rest of this entry »
Beijing could throw its weight behind attempts by the Hong Kong government to bar two democratically elected independence activists from taking up their seats in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s leader has indicated.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that he may ask Beijing to “interpret” the city’s miniconstitution, the Basic Law, if a court review of the lawmakers’ status doesn’t go the government’s way.
Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the localist group Youngspiration, who were elected to LegCo in last September’s elections, used their swearing-in ceremony last month to pledge to represent the “Hong Kong nation,” inserting swear-words, slurs, and pro-independence slogans into their oaths.
They were unable to take up their seats, as their oaths were deemed invalid by LegCo chairman Andrew Leung, and the government sought their removal from office with a judicial review in the High Court, which will be decided on Thursday.
Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau, 25, later attempted to re-take their oaths, but were thwarted by a mass walkout of pro-Beijing LegCo members, rendering the ceremony invalid.
Leung told reporters on Tuesday that he could ask China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), to use its ultimate power to interpret the Basic Law.
“We hope to do our utmost to resolve it within Hong Kong, but we cannot rule out this possibility,” Leung said.
“Apart from the case in court….there is a high possibility that other things might be triggered by their oaths and their words and actions afterwards,” Leung said, who recently postponed a trip to Beijing pending the court’s decision. Read the rest of this entry »