Hong Kong’s legislature has been in the spotlight in the last few weeks, even making it into international headlines, but not in a good way. The reason is that when all of Hong Kong’s legislators were sworn in three weeks ago, two localist first-time legislators altered the words of the oath to refer to China as “Cheena” with a bit of profanity, as well as held banners saying Hong Kong is not China. Initially Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching were told to retake the oath, but this was then overturned and the issue was taken to the courts.
But then, Beijing waded in by claiming the right to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law to determine whether Leung and Yau can be banned. To make it crystal clear, the mainland’s top official in Hong Kong said Sunday morning those two would not be allowed to be sworn in, a decision which goes against Hong Kong’s democratic process and laws, and opposes the will of Hong Kong voters. Well, thousands of Hong Kongers, as well as Leung and Yau, didn’t take that sitting down and immediately marched in the afternoon and protested outside the Liaison Office on Sunday evening, clashing with police.
In the past three Wednesdays, (when the legislature meets), the legislature has become an action-packed scene with stormings (by the two young radicals after being banned), scuffles and a walk-out inside the legislature chamber and protests outside. Leung and Yau belong to localist party Youngspiration, whose main goal is Hong Kong’s right to self-determination or basically independence. So while this controversy has propelled Hong Kong into the international news again, like with the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the bookseller kidnappings last year, the legislature has become a spectacle and unable to conduct much real business, and worse, gave Beijing a reason to interfere in Hong Kong’s political affairs by claiming the right to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law to ban Leung and Yau.
I can’t say I want Hong Kong to be independent, but the Chinese government and regime are certainly not something civilized society would really want to be under, and what many respectable citizens would want to support. Unfortunately, Yau and Leung’s actions during their swearing-in ceremony were not the most mature or effective thing to do, and the controversy it caused has resulted in two major consequences. One is it has made the legislature into a farce (which admittedly it has often been in the recent past) unable to conduct normal business, having dragged on for three weeks already. Second is it has given Beijing an excuse to interfere in Hong Kong’s political process, claiming that it needs to intervene to uphold stability and prevent independence from being discussed in the legislature by the two “traitors.”
I certainly don’t think the two are “traitors” and should be barred from being sworn in just because they did not acknowledge Hong Kong is part of China. Moreover, it shows is how weak in terms of principles that China and its Communist regime is, and why Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights matter even more. Also, the pro-Beijing lawmakers need to take some blame for the legislative circus because they were the ones who walked out when the two young lawmakers were set to re-take their oaths, causing this controversy to be prolonged.
However, I wonder if the two young novice legislators, when they did what they did, knew what they were doing. Were they expecting and prepared for the escalation of this issue and Beijing’s interference? If they did, then maybe it is a cunning way to force the issue of Hong Kong’s political reform and future to be confronted by the authorities now. But if they didn’t, then their actions during the swearing-in ceremony would have been just a reckless stunt. Given Beijing has taken the next step and the localists responded tonight with their protest, this fiasco might signal new tensions and conflicts in Hong Kong.