Nearly all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers have announced that they are resigning from the city’s legislature in protest against the forced removal of four of their colleagues, who were accused of endangering national security by supporting the semi-autonomous region’s independence from mainland China.
The en-masse resignation of the 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers has effectively removed political opposition from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, also known as the LegCo. With this, the city’s 70-seat legislature now has only two remaining opposition members.
What led to this?
The recent resignations and expulsions were spurred by a resolution that was passed by China’s highest legislative body — the National People’s Congress Standing Committee — which allows the city’s government to directly dismiss elected lawmakers without having to approach the courts.
According to the resolution, lawmakers should be disqualified if they support Hong Kong’s independence, fail to acknowledge China’s sovereignty, or encourage foreign forces to interfere in the city’s affairs, AP reported.
Soon after the resolution was passed, the Hong Kong government announced that it was disqualifying four lawmakers — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung. Later that day, 15 other pro-democracy leaders announced that they were resigning in solidarity.
“Today we will resign from our positions because our partners, our colleagues have been disqualified by the central government’s ruthless move,” the leader of the pro-democracy camp, Wu Chi-Wai, said in a press conference on Wednesday.
The lawmakers were seen holding hands and chanting, “Hong Kong add oil! Together we stand!” according to an AP report. The phrase “add oil” is a translation of a Chinese expression that is used for encouragement.
“This is an actual act by Beijing to sound the death-knell of Hong Kong’s democracy fight,” legislator Claudia Mo said. “From now on, anyone they find to be politically incorrect or unpatriotic or simply not likeable to look at – they can just oust you.”📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Why were these four lawmakers dismissed?
Hong Kong officials said the four legislators who were dismissed Wednesday had already been barred from running in the upcoming election, which was earlier slated to take place in September but was eventually postponed to next year.
“We need to have a political body which is composed of patriots,” Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said. “There are four legislators who have been deemed … to not genuinely swear to uphold the basic law and not to have genuinely pledged their allegiance to Hong Kong SAR [special administrative region].”
But officials are yet to reveal how exactly the four legislators broke the rules. According to a BBC report, two of them — Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu — were among the signatories of a joint letter addressed to US Senators which called for sanctions on Hong Kong.
Another, Kenneth Leung, has also been accused of supporting sanctions indirectly after he attended a press conference on the issue during a diplomatic visit to the US. Kwok Ka-Ki, on the other hand, has not been involved in either incident. Election officials previously said that he had a “purported intention” to ask foreign forces to impose more sanctions, BBC reported.
At a press conference, Dennis Kwok said, “If observing due process and fighting for democracy can lead to being disqualified, it [disqualification] will be my honour.”
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What are the implications for Hong Kong?
With the resignations and expulsions, the legislative body has nearly no dissenting voices for the first time since Hong Kong was reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — which officially ended 156 years of British rule.
Critics believe that the recent resolution will make it very easy for the city’s government to suppress opposition lawmakers voicing their dissent against China’s increased control over Hong Kong.
Merely two opposition lawmakers now remain in the LegCo — Cheng Chung-tai from the Civic Passion Party and Pierre Chan, a doctor and lawmaker.
Meanwhile, at a press conference announcing the dismissal of the four lawmakers, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was “excited” that bills will pass more “efficiently” at the legislature in the future.
The pro-democracy camp’s leader Wu Chi-Wai accused the government of destroying Hong Kong’s mini constitution known as the Basic Law, as well as the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework, which assured the city greater autonomy from the mainland till 2047.
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems’, this declares its official death,” Wu Chi-wai told reporters on Wednesday.
But the clampdown on dissenting voices dates back even further. Earlier this year, China passed a controversial national security law in the territory following years of pro-democracy protests — which critics claim has cast a shadow on the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong’s 74.5 lakh residents for over two decades.
According to the new law, anyone who is found “undermining national unification” of Hong Kong with the mainland could face a punishment as severe as life imprisonment.
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How did Beijing react to the resignations?
The Chinese government condemned the move by opposition lawmakers to resign en masse, calling it a “farce” and an “open challenge” to undermine their authority as well as the city’s Basic Law.
“If these lawmakers hope to make use of their resignation to provoke radical opposition and beg for foreign interference, they have miscalculated,” a spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement.
“The farce completely exposed how some opposition lawmakers disregard citizens for their own political interests. It shows their stubbornly confrontational attitude against the central government,” the statement further read.
The statement also mentioned the pro-democracy lawmakers who chose to remain in the LegCo. “We notice that some lawmakers labelled as the ‘opposition’ were not kidnapped into the ‘mass resignation’ battleground, but opted to continue performing their lawmaker duties. We should endorse their rational decision,” it stated.
How has the world reacted to the news?
China’s move was widely condemned by governments in the US, UK, Germany and Australia.
Robert O’Brien, the US’ national security advisor, accused China of “flagrantly” violating its international commitments and threatened to impose more sanctions on “those responsible for extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom”, the Guardian reported.
“One country, two systems’ is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP’s expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong,” he said.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that the forced expulsion of pro-democracy lawmakers represented “a further assault on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms under the UK-China Joint Declaration.”
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