2 Hong Kong officials grilled over Beijing's view of Basic Law

Mrs Lam and Mr Yuen being questioned at Hong Kong's Legco yesterday. Mr Yuen reiterated that Beijing has the right to interpret the Basic Law and this will not undermine Hong Kong's judicial system.
Mrs Lam and Mr Yuen being questioned at Hong Kong's Legco yesterday. Mr Yuen reiterated that Beijing has the right to interpret the Basic Law and this will not undermine Hong Kong's judicial system.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Legislative panel asks how interpretation of city's mini-Constitution would be enforced

Two top Hong Kong government officials were grilled at a meeting of the legislature's Special House Committee on the interpretation of the city's Basic Law by the central government in Beijing.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam and Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen were asked how the government would enforce Monday's interpretation of Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

The move by China's Parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to interpret Article 104, which states that lawmakers need to swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China, is seen by many Hong Kongers as political intervention by Beijing to remove two pro-independence lawmakers from the Legislative Council (Legco). According to the NPC, the oath-taker is disqualified if the oath is not taken "accurately and completely" and will not be allowed to retake the oath.

The two, Mr Sixtus Leung, 30, and Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, from the Youngspiration party had altered the words of their oath, pledging allegiance to the "Hong Kong nation".

The Legco is divided over the ruling, with pro-democracy lawmakers accusing Beijing of interfering in Hong Kong's political affairs, while pro-Beijing lawmakers were supportive of the move and even urged the city's government to review the swearing-in oaths taken by all lawmakers last month.

The legislative committee fired a volley of questions at Mrs Lam and Mr Yuen, asking why the government had allowed Beijing's intervention in the city's legislature and if they still believed in Hong Kong's judicial independence. Many questions were left unanswered in the one-hour meeting held before the regular Legco session.

"The government is still studying the content of the interpretation," said Mrs Lam, adding she "reserves the right" to say whether Beijing's interpretation would have any effect on certain lawmakers. And "answering their questions here does not mean I have accepted their status", said Mrs Lam, referring to lawmakers who may have breached the Basic Law in their oath-taking, according to the interpretation.

Professor Lau Siu Kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think-tank, told The Straits Times on Monday that at least two more lawmakers could have the validity of their oaths reviewed.

One of them is Ms Lau Siu Lai, who had her first oath invalidated as she had read it too slowly with long pauses in between. She was allowed to retake her oath on Nov 2.

The other, Mr Edward Yiu, had added this line to his oath: "I will uphold procedural justice in Hong Kong, fight for genuine universal suffrage and serve the city's sustainable development."

More names, including localist lawmakers Nathan Law and Eddie Chu, were thrown up by local media in the past two days.

Yesterday, Mr Yuen reiterated that Beijing has the right to interpret the Basic Law and this will not undermine Hong Kong's judicial system, which he believes will be able to resolve the oath-taking issue.

Basic Law committee member Maria Tam, meanwhile, said on a programme of broadcaster RTHK that cases that have not reached the Court of Final Appeal would have to abide by Beijing's interpretation.

The judicial review of whether the Youngspiration pair should be allowed to retake their oaths was heard last week, but a ruling has yet to be made by the local court.

Yesterday's Legco session was stopped in the morning after the president was challenged by a pro-democracy lawmaker to a debate on Beijing's move, which was not on the agenda. The session resumed in the afternoon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline '2 HK officials grilled over Beijing's view of Basic Law'. Print Edition | Subscribe