China’s parliament is preparing to rule on whether two pro-independence lawmakers elected to Hong Kong’s legislature can officially be sworn in. FT explains the high stakes involved:
China’s parliament is to rule on whether two pro-independence legislators should be prevented from taking their seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, an intervention lawyers say would undermine the independence of the territory’s legal system.The decision by the National People’s Congress thrusts Beijing into a deepening political dispute in the territory, where younger voters are chafing against a crackdown on dissent and an erosion of the autonomy granted under the 1997 handover from UK rule. […]The NPC’s decision will pre-empt a Hong Kong court hearing that began on Thursday and would have determined whether Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung could retake their oath of office, which acknowledges China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.
A few weeks ago, the controversial duo—who botched an initial oath-taking ceremony by cursing out China and swearing allegiance to Hong Kong—were blocked from taking their seats by a walkout of pro-Beijing legislators. Their status has been in limbo ever since, as the Hong Kong government and the president of the Legislative Council argue over whether they are still qualified to be sworn in.An intervention by China could set a major precedent. Officially, China has always had the authority to issue interpretations of the charter governing relations between Hong Kong and Beijing. In practice, however, China has rarely done so, and until now it has never intervened unsolicited in a legal dispute that Hong Kong’s courts are still actively considering. Some fear that the intervention will undermine the courts’ independence and usher in a new era of tightened control over Hong Kong.Whatever happens, the tensions that emerged during the 2014 Umbrella movement show no signs of abating. The leaders of that pro-democracy movement—especially the minority of young “localists” who want complete independence from Beijing—are now seeking to move into positions of power in Hong Kong. China’s ruling could cut off a path to public office for anyone who advocates independence, and it will certainly alter the dynamic of Beijing-Hong Kong relations going forward.