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People who advocate Hong Kong independence are in violation of the territory’s laws and China’s constitution, and are not qualified to stand for public office, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s top newspaper said on Saturday. The comments in the People’s Daily come ahead of what is expected to effectively be a ruling by Beijing on the fate of two newly elected Hong Kong legislators who pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner when they first attempted to take office in October.
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Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that gave the territory wide-ranging autonomy, including judicial freedom.
The oath-taking incident made waves in the former British colony, where the topic of independence from China was once regarded as taboo but has percolated to the fore since months of pro-democracy protests in 2014 failed to secure any concessions from Beijing.
In the coming days the leaders of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, will review a “draft explanation” of the section of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that stipulates the need for Hong Kong legislators and other officials to swear allegiance to “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” when assuming office.
The People’s Daily editorial said calls for Hong Kong independence by the Hong Kong lawmakers-elect and others were an insult to China and violation of the national constitution and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
Such action “seriously touches the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems’, endangers national unity, territorial integrity and national security, jeopardises the nation’s core interests and the basic interests of the majority of Hong Kong residents, and is vile in nature,” it said.
“The heart of the issue is that anyone who splits the nation or promotes ‘Hong Kong independence’ is directly violating the constitution, the Basic Law and related Hong Kong laws, and is unqualified to stand for election or hold public office provided for in the Basic Law,” it added.
An interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPC Standing Committee would be completely legal, “extremely timely, extremely necessary, of great importance and have far-reaching effect”, it said.
The NPC Standing Committee has interpreted the Basic Law four times since 1997, including once when neither the city government nor its courts requested it.
After the abortive swearing-in ceremony by Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, Hong Kong’s chief executive filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against them getting another chance.
Hong Kong’s High Court struck down that request but approved a judicial review hearing over the pair’s membership of the legislature.
The Hong Kong Bar Association has said an intervention by Beijing now, as a local court was hearing the case, would deal a “severe blow” to the city’s judicial independence and undermine international confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy.