Dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a walk-out from the Hong Kong legislature on Wednesday to stall the swearing in of two pro-independence lawmakers in the Chinese-ruled city. The topic of independence has long been taboo in the former British colony, now governed under the “one country, two systems” principle since its return to China in 1997. The government failed in an unprecedented legal attempt on Tuesday to halt the swearing-in of the two. The lawmakers marched out of the legislative chamber, leaving Chinese and Hong Kong flags in their place, to deprive it of a quorum. It is unclear when swearing-in will take place. The government will formally challenge the decision of legislative authorities to allow Baggio Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, to re-take their oaths in the High Court next month.
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Yau and Leung sparked outrage from Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing establishment when their first oaths were rejected by legislative officials last week. Then they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a banner declaring that “Hong Kong is not China”, using language some legislators portrayed as derogatory Japanese slang. The pair are part of a new generation of Hong Kong activists determined to force issues of self-determination and independence on to the mainstream political agenda.
Outside, hundreds of pro-Beijing protesters thronged the grounds of the legislature, some carrying placards of the pair dressed in Japanese army uniforms that denounced them as “traitors” and “dogs”. Others chanted that the pair must step down to protect China’s “dignity”.
The judicial review looms as a unprecedented constitutional battle in the free-wheeling global financial hub, testing its rule of law and the separation of powers between the government and legislative branch. Some senior judges and government officials fear privately the issue could force Beijing to invoke rarely used to powers to re-interpret Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or push through new laws.