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Hong Kong Chaos
Loyalists and Localists Face Off in Hong Kong Legislature

After the Hong Kong government failed to block two new pro-independence legislators from being sworn in, pro-Beijing lawmakers took matters into their own hands with a mass walkout. Reuters:

Dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers walked out of the Hong Kong legislature on Wednesday to prevent the swearing-in of two pro-independence activists, setting the scene for a new constitutional crisis in the Chinese-controlled city. […]

The government failed in an unprecedented legal attempt to halt the swearing-in of the two newly elected legislators, Baggio Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, late on Tuesday evening.

But High Court Judge Thomas Au did approve the government’s request for a judicial review of the case, which will take place early next month.

The pro-China lawmakers on Wednesday marched out of the Legislative Council chamber, leaving Chinese and Hong Kong flags in their place, to deprive it of a quorum.

This latest kerfuffle follows last week’s failed attempts to swear in Leung and Yau. At that ceremony, the activists provocatively swore allegiance to “the Hong Kong nation” and used derogatory slang to refer to China, invalidating their oaths and angering the pro-Beijing camp.

All this procedural drama exposes two consequential rifts within factions that could shape the future of the Hong Kong democracy movement.

On the pro-democracy side, the rise of young “localists,” who call for full independence from China, contrasts with the older coalition of “pan-democrats,” who accept Hong Kong as part of China and advocate greater democratization under that framework. These groups joined forces in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, but it is worth watching to see if the young localists’ bravado may be a bridge too far for moderate democrats.

Meanwhile, within the pro-establishment (read: pro-Beijing) camp, lawmakers seem divided over how to deal with the young upstarts. Those who walked out, including the senior lawmaker Regina Ip, argue that Leung and Yau should never have been allowed to re-take the oaths. But it was another pro-establishment figure, the new president of the Legislative Council Andrew Leung, who defied government efforts to block them and defended their right to join the legislature. In his words, “They are duly elected…and I have a constitutional duty to safeguard their rights to fulfill their duties as Legislative Council members.”

That disagreement reflects a wider debate that is sure to play out in Beijing. Should the authorities allow a small number of elected independence activists into Hong Kong’s legislature, despite their open defiance of Beijing? Or should China nip the problem in the bud and crack down on any lawmakers who refuse to swear allegiance?

Whatever happens, the debate over Hong Kong’s democracy movement is far from over.

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