Interpretation Another Step To “One Country, What Two Systems?”

The storm surrounding Youngspiration lawmakers, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-Ching, has reached crisis level in Hong Kong and China. The two popularly elected legislators defied Beijing expectations by amending their oaths at the swearing-in process. Both displayed a banner reading “Hong Kong is not China”, whilst Yau mispronounced the “People’s Republic of China” as the “People’s re-fucking of Chee-na” in a show of support for Hong Kong independence. In response, the Chief Executive and the Secretary for Justice unprecedentedly requested the court to disqualify the pair. The day after, at the next Legislative Council meeting, even after reassurances that the localist lawmakers would take the oath correctly, the pro-Beijing parties staged a walkout to deny the required quorum being present. Thus prohibiting them the usual second attempt. Following the decision of LegCo president Andrew Leung to delay the oath taking, after reassurances he would not do so, the two lawmakers were escorted into the chamber by eight pro-democracy members. Even though quorum was then met, Leung adjourned the meeting. Zhang Dejiang, the Chairman of the National People’s Congress then confirmed that an “interpretation” would take place to discuss the future of the duo and have since effectively barred them from taking office.

A Taiwanese animators evocative video representation of the saga.

Beijing has decided that any person who make a false oath or break their oath will not be allowed to retake the pledges and will bear “legal responsibility”. A move which many say strip Hong Kong of its autonomy guaranteed in the 1997 handover. The NPCSC’s actions have been denounced as an amendment rather than an interpretation, most notably by the Civic Party. Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a legislator in the legal sector, regarded the move as unprecedentedly damaging the rule of law. The Beijing interpretation took place before the scheduled decision by the Hong Kong courts. Thus many see this as an assault on the rule of law, and the ability of the judiciary to hold the executive to account. In addition, the decision to confer power for judging the oath onto an unelected civil servant, the legislative Council secretary-general, has been criticised for its apparent disregard of democratic principles. It also questions whether or not he can be effectively held responsibility for his actions by the Hong Kong people. Or if the position is now one of a Beijing weapon and just how easy it will be for Beijing to undo Hong Kong’s election results?  The rewriting of this law could further be characterised as being ex post facto; having retrospective force, since the retaking of the oath has not been a problem in the past and various additional conditions have been added. Therefore, the duo are being excluded from office for offence which was not yet in existence at the time. The ideology of which, if in a criminal code would violate the universal declaration of human rights.

The Two Youngspiration Lawmakers. Photo by K.Y Cheng

The Two Youngspiration Lawmakers. Photo by K.Y Cheng

Having so casually disregarded core democratic principles, one wonders whether Beijing were aware of the fury that this would cause. Thousands took to the streets in protest of this decision; something which could have been avoided had they simply played the benevolence card and granted the opportunity to de-escalate the situation. It appears to be another instance of attaching Hong Kong law to a much feared concept: Chinese characteristics. Of course, it would not be Chinese characteristics without the possibility of selective enforcement. It is worth noting that the chief executive, CY Leung, neglected to mention the words “Hong Kong” during part of his own back in 2012. The key issue for many is not about an independent country, but about the independence of the judiciary and the legal system; a long respected tenant of Hong Kong culture. In order for the rule of law and separation of powers to be respected, senior politicians should not wield the sword of a political interpretation. Beijing coming over the border to rewrite Hong Kong law is essentially political violence reducing “one country, two systems” into “one country, what two systems?”

Beijing also took the opportunity to state a new definition for the term “self-determination”, rendering it analogous to “independence”. Basic Law committee chair Li Fei determined using the phrase would contravene the mini-constitution, which states Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China. Such assertions certainly do not have a strong backing by law academics across Hong Kong and worldwide. Democratic politicians were also unimpressed, Joshua Wong of Demosisto stated “Democratic self-determination means allowing Hong Kongers to decide the future of Hong Kong by democratic means. Today, the Chinese Communist Party characterised it as independence. It looks like the day when Beijing equates Anti-Article 23 and end one-party rule [protests] with fuelling pro-independence forces is not far away”. Any further and even the term “Hong Konger” will be analogous to independence. Such a move signals a terrifying disappearance of territorial autonomy and that Beijing has little concern over using crude political weapons to silence dissent.

The decision of Beijing to be so heavy-handed in their response to the duo inspired vigorous demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong and led to violent clashes throughout Sunday night. Political violence against the rule of law and Hong Kong’s democratic values is being met with increasing responses by a growing number of people seeking to clearly state that “Hong Kong is not China”. However the actions have not put off the two activists, with Sixtus Leung saying “This incident shows that [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying and [Secretary for Justice] Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, two traitors of Hong Kong, ignored Hong Kong’s interests. Yau Wai-ching and I will defend the Hong Kong nation’s dignity and interests with our lives. We’ll fight whatever they got.”



Callum Phillips
About Callum Phillips
Callum Phillips hails from a small town in Wales and is a reluctant Law student at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Leicester. His interests lie in Governance, Human Rights, Social Activism and generally questioning authority. While he is in Hong Kong he has become a very vocal campaigner and a staunch pro-democratic & morality-centred commentator. Tweet him @CallumPhillips8