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Basic Law

Mainland Chinese support for Basic Law interpretation would outweigh Hong Kong’s protest, senior Beijing adviser claims

Maria Tam’s latest comments on Legco oath row come as Hongkongers prepare to march against intervention by National People’s Congress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 2:45pm

If mainland Chinese were to stage a rally in support of Beijing’s intervention in the Hong Kong oath-taking controversy, its “turnout would be bigger than” that of Hong Kong’s protest on the matter later Sunday afternoon, a senior central government adviser claimed.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress and a member of its Basic Law Committee, was speaking hours before activists were set to march from Wan Chai to Central to protest against the NPC’s interpretation of Basic Law’s Article 104.

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The article states that when lawmakers take office, they must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China.

The interpretation is likely to be approved by the NPC’s Standing Committee on Monday morning, outlining the rules of oath-taking and asserting that non-compliance means disqualification.

Controversy erupted last month when two pro-independence lawmakers in Hong Kong, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, were accused of using derogatory language when referring to China when they were being sworn into the Legislative Council. Their oaths were invalidated.

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In Beijing on Sunday, Tam was asked to comment on the rally in Hong Kong to be held later in the day.

“It’s not a problem,” she said. “If China allowed people to support the interpretation, the turnout would be larger than Hong Kong’s turnout” at the rally, she said.

Tam played down speculation that the interpretation would sow dissension in the city. “With the rule of law, society is not deeply divided,” she said. “Some isolated clashes are bound to be triggered by different political aspirations.”

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State broadcaster CCTV reported that during the NPCSC’s meeting on Saturday, Beijing’s top legislators “unanimously agreed” on the intervention in order to safeguard Hong Kong’s stability.

Tam said she read several reports about the meetings on Saturday and that NPCSC members had agreed that “those who made false vows should bear legal responsibility” – referring to Leung and Yau.

The veteran Beijing adviser added it was possible that NPC deputies would read an updated version of the interpretation during a meeting on Sunday afternoon. But she did not expect it to vary greatly from the most recent draft.

Watch: Hong Kong localists trying to retake their oaths on Wednesday

“A significant change is not easy and is unlikely to happen,” she said.

Tam declined to say whether the interpretation would exert additional pressure on Hong Kong to create its own national security law as set forth by Article 23 of the Basic Law.

“It is Hong Kong’s responsibility,” she said. “No other country has given such a responsibility to a local government or legislature ... the earlier we complete it the better as it would head off chaos in the city.”

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming accused Beijing of using the oath-taking saga to ban local courts from handling certain kinds of cases.

Lee, a former member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, also said it made no sense for Beijing to confirm that the Legco secretary general, charged with administrative issues, had the power to invalidate oaths through the interpretation.

“He is just a clerk,” Lee said on an RTHK programme on Sunday. “I’m sure the post will be taken by a Communist Party member in future.”

But former lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong defended Beijing’s move as “timely and necessary”.

Tam, also a former Basic Law Drafting Committee member, said the clarification “would benefit Hong Kong society and help stamp out pro-independence sentiments”.

When asked if the draft ruling by Beijing amounted to a new local law, Tam argued the Basic Law’s articles only stated fundamental principles and that the NPCSC had the right to clearly explain legislative intent.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu on Sunday quoted the late Li Hou, the secretary general of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, as saying it was Beijing’s intention to draft the city’s mini-constitution in broad terms to enable the central government to interpret the articles in future.