HK leader may ask Beijing to interpret Basic Law

Local officials fear HK's autonomy and legal system could come under threat

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leader signalled yesterday he might ask Beijing to use a rarely invoked power to interpret the city's Basic Law mini-Constitution to end a political crisis over a fledgling independence movement.

Any such move will spark fears for Hong Kong's autonomy and vaunted legal system, officials, judges and lawyers say privately.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's remarks come ahead of a Hong Kong government-requested legal hearing that could effectively bar two recently elected pro-independence lawmakers from the legislature of the global financial hub.

Some local officials and judges have grown privately fearful that the emergence of independence issues could see Beijing force tough new laws on the city, or interpret the Basic Law to explicitly curb pro-independence legislators.

The city's rule of law and freedom of speech are jealously guarded by many in the former British colony after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems", allowing it wide-ranging freedoms.

Speaking ahead of a weekly executive meeting yesterday, Mr Leung went further than other officials in raising the prospect that his government could request Beijing to interpret the Basic Law.

LEUNG'S CONCERN

Apart from the case in court.... there is a high possibility that other things might be triggered by their oaths and their words and actions afterwards.

CHIEF EXECUTIVE LEUNG CHUN YING, on seeking to stop two pro-independence lawmakers from being sworn in.

"We hope to do our utmost to resolve it within Hong Kong, but we cannot rule out this possibility," Mr Leung told local media.

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen has previously said that the situation could be handled locally and there was no need for an interpretation at this point.

The government has asked the courts to review a decision by the legislature's president allowing pro-independence lawmakers Yau Wai Ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, to retake their oaths of office. The hearing started yesterday.

The pair, who represent a new breed of more radical activists moving into the political mainstream, had their swearing-in oaths invalidated last month over language and a banner that were deemed derogatory to China.

"Apart from the case in court.... there is a high possibility that other things might be triggered by their oaths and their words and actions afterwards," Mr Leung said, explaining why he had postponed a trip to Beijing.

Pressure has built in recent weeks from local Beijing loyalists and the president of the Legislative Council last week delayed the swearing-in until the High Court rules.

Once taboo, calls for self-determination and independence have increased since the Umbrella Movement in late 2014, when tens of thousands took to the streets for 79 days of protests against reforms that failed to deliver full democracy for leadership.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'HK leader may ask Beijing to interpret Basic Law'. Print Edition | Subscribe