China's top legislature on Monday effectively barred two democratically elected separatist lawmakers from taking office in Hong Kong, an intervention into a local political dispute that's likely to spark further turmoil in the southern Chinese city. The National People's Congress Standing Committee in Beijing issued a ruling on a section of Hong Kong's mini-constitution covering oaths taken by officials that meant two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers, who displayed anti-China sentiment during their swearing-in last month, would be disqualified.
"We are concerned by recent developments in the Legislative Council and, while we recognize the National People's Congress Standing Committee's authority to interpret the Basic Law, by its decision to issue an opinion at this time," a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said.
The move is likely to trigger protests in Hong Kong, where thousands of people took to Hong Kong streets Sunday after Beijing signaled it was planning to intervene. They demanded that China's central government stay out of the political dispute, saying the move would undermine the city's considerable autonomy and independent judiciary by bypassing its top court, where the case is currently being heard. Police used pepper spray and batons against some demonstrators trying to reach Beijing's liaison office after the rally ended. Four people were arrested and two officers were injured, police said.
The dispute centers on two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, who altered their oaths to insert a disparaging Japanese expression for China. Displaying a flag reading "Hong Kong is not China," they vowed to defend the "Hong Kong nation." Their oaths were ruled invalid, but subsequent attempts have resulted in mayhem in the legislature's weekly sessions.
Hong Kong's Basic Law — the city's mini-constitution — stipulates that Beijing holds the legal power to make interpretations, and it is the central government's duty to step in when there is a difference of legal opinion, Li said.