Hong Kong opposition quits as China moves to quash dissent

Former pan-democratic legislators Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka Ki, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok speak to the media in Hong Kong, on Nov 11, 2020.
Former pan-democratic legislators Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka Ki, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok speak to the media in Hong Kong, on Nov 11, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Hong Kong’s legislature will have no opposition lawmakers if members of the pan-democratic camp follow through on their threat to resign en masse on Thursday (Nov 12), adding to growing fears that Beijing wants to crush dissent and create a rubber-stamp Parliament.

This comes after China’s top legislative body passed a resolution on Wednesday that required Hong Kong lawmakers to be patriots, widely viewed as a move to curb debate in a city that had managed to thrive on it.

The resolution of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) stated that legislators who promote or support Hong Kong independence, refuse to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, ask external forces to interfere in the territory’s affairs or commit other acts that threaten national security should be disqualified.

Citing the need for a smooth implementation of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and long-term stability in Hong Kong, it said all public servants in the city – including lawmakers – must support the Basic Law - and be loyal to the Hong Kong government.

NPCSC Chairman Li Zhanshu said at the close of a two-day meeting that Beijing’s decision is “conducive to the long-term peace and stability, as well as prosperity and development of Hong Kong.”

The decision applies not only to future lawmakers but also to four pan-dem lawmakers who were barred from running in the Legislative Council or Legco elections, postponed from September till next year.

The Hong Kong government announced the disqualification of Mr Alvin Yeung, Mr Dennis Kwok, Mr Kwok Ka Ki and Mr Kenneth Leung, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam endorsing the decision.

She said it would be a “blatant deviance” from the Basic Law that governs the territory if lawmakers who breached their oaths stayed in office.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said that the disqualification “has a solid legal foundation and has an undeniable authority”.

The Legco has been plagued by bitterness between the pan-dem and pro-establishment camps, with filibustering and chamber drama arising several times in at least the past year.

“I have taken the responsibility to seek a solution to address this problem,” said Mrs Lam, who said Hong Kong plans to introduce legislation to formalise the process and spell out legal consequences for violators.

“I cannot arbitrarily take action without any basis that’s why I made the request to an organ that has the power to make such a decision. There is no relationship with the timing of my visit,” she added, referring to her recent Beijing visit to seek support on measures to support Hong Kong’s economy.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai said on Wednesday that the remaining 15 opposition lawmakers will hand in their resignation letters on Thursday - a move the pan-dem bloc had warned of on Monday if any of them were to be disqualified.

He noted that as early as 2014, Beijing had announced in a white paper that it would extend its jurisdiction over Hong Kong completely. 

“There is a separation of power under the stipulation of the Basic Law, but today, the decision made by the central government simply says that all the separation of power will be taken away, and all the power will be centralised in the Chief Executive.

“Of course, the Chief Executive is a puppet of the central government ...we say that today is the end of the ‘One Country, Two Systems” (principle),” said Mr Wu.

Legco President Andrew Leung dismissed the notion that the decision creates a rubber-stamp legislature: “Do you think the pro-government camp is one party? They have a lot more different voices ... Without the pan-dems, we might have more opposition from the pro-government camp than anyone.” 

Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy noted that even if the pan-dems were to stay on, the opposition bloc would not be able to veto the passing of measures with the disqualification of the four lawmakers.

“Beijing has a clear idea of the consequence of what will happen if they resign. Now, it’s very clear that Hong Kong lawmakers have become a rubber stamp since all of them are pro-government,” he said.

Asked about Mr Leung’s suggestion that pro-Beijing lawmakers can be the opposition voice too, Prof Wu said: “China also has a similar model. Who believes China really has check and balance between power and government?”

Mr Lau Siu Kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing, which decides on matters of the Basic Law and the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, has to ensure that these are executed with precision.

He noted that the chaos in Hong Kong’s Legco has meant that it could not function and the government is stuck in a quandary. This situation prompted Beijing to act, he said.

“If the opposition leaves, relations within Legco will improve in the year that follows and major policies dealing with different crises can be pushed through quickly. The government and the pro-Beijing camp will have to account for the success or failure of those policies so they are likely to move cautiously ahead."

Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab said the expulsion of the four lawmakers constituted an assault on 
Hong Kong’s freedoms as set out in the UK-China Joint Declaration. 

“This campaign to harass, stifle and disqualify democratic opposition tarnishes China’s international reputation and undermines Hong Kong’s long-term stability,” he said on Wednesday in a statement.