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Hong Kong Basic Law

Calls for Hong Kong self-determination as unlawful as independence talk, senior Beijing official says

Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei says returning officers acted legally when barring candidates from Legco by-election

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 8:07pm

A senior Beijing official said on Friday that calls for “self-determination” were no different from the advocacy of Hong Kong independence, and the recent election bans issued by the city’s officials were totally in line with the law.

Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee under China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, made the remarks almost a month after Demosisto’s Agnes Chow Ting was banned from contesting the Legislative Council by-election in March on the grounds of her party’s calls for self-determination.

Two other aspirants were also barred after failing to convince election officers that they had changed their stance on independence.

Responding to reporters on his way to an NPCSC meeting in Beijing, Li said talk of self-determination was in breach of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and on par with the promotion of independence.

“They are the same, no matter what they said,” said Li, who is also deputy secretary general of the NPCSC. “They just shifted the use of words, but the nature is the same.”

For Chow’s case, the Electoral Affairs Commission returning officer cited Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law in 2016 as a justification for her disqualification.

That interpretation by the NPCSC not only spelt out the manner in which officials and representatives should take their oaths but also stipulated that anyone standing for public office should pledge to uphold the Basic Law before being allowed to run.

Li said on Friday that the interpretation was very clear, and Hong Kong must implement it.

Asked if the interpretation put pressure on the returning officers, Li said: “No, returning officers work according to the law.”

Why Agnes Chow and self-determination should not scare the Hong Kong government

Basic Law Committee vice-chairman Zhang Rongshun, also on his way to the meeting, answered in another way: “Can returning officers not follow the NPCSC’s decision and not follow the law? They must work according to the book.”

When asked what the authorities should do if any candidates supporting self-determination were voted in during the by-election, Zhang said that would depend on their actual behaviour.

He said these were all hypothetical questions, along with the question of whether Demosisto members could run in the future after changing their party manifesto.

In response, Demosisto said in a statement that Li’s assertion about self-determination was an excuse to justify banning Chow.

It showed that “Beijing’s political will” was behind the government’s decision to disqualify Chow, the party added.

Demosisto insisted its advocacy of “democratic self-determination” was meant to let Hongkongers decide their way of life and political future democratically, consistent with the promise that the city could maintain a high level of autonomy until 2047.

The party added that Li’s comments would only alienate more young Hongkongers from the political system and narrow the pro-democracy camp’s options.

Last week, the High Court handed down a ruling and determined that returning officers could bar candidates because of their political views – but only when presented with “cogent, clear and compelling” evidence that such hopefuls would not uphold the Basic Law. It stipulated that aspirants should be given “reasonable opportunity” to respond to officers’ concerns – a chance that Chow was not given.

Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming SC had argued that Chow’s disqualification was unconstitutional.

Regarding the dispute, Li said it was all up to Hong Kong laws and regulations.

Localist lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who supported self-determination for the city in his 2016 Legco election run, said Li’s remarks were just empty talk.

“Please define ‘self-determination’ first. He should define that, not me,” Chu said.