A necessary intervention to keep separatists out of public office
Interpretation of the Basic Law on oath-taking was forced on Beijing by the antics of localist lawmakers, who challenged the bottom line of ‘one country’
That Beijing has had to step into the oath-taking fiasco by interpreting a key provision in the Basic Law for Hong Kong’s courts to follow has understandably raised concerns in some sectors. But the swift decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee shows that it believes timely intervention is necessary. It is a strong tool to stamp out pro-independence forces from entering the establishment. Still, it raises concerns that such a move could add fuel to the fire of localist sentiment.
Without commenting on the use of offensive words in the oaths of pro-independence lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, the state’s top legislative body yesterday stated that the oath for assuming public office under Article 104 must be taken solemnly, in line with the spirit of upholding the Basic Law and bearing allegiance to Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Failing to take the oath accordingly will result in disqualification. Those who make a “false oath” or subsequently engage in acts that violate the oath shall bear legal responsibility.
It is good that the interpretation is confined to oath-taking by key government officials, executive councillors, lawmakers and judges, rather than eligibility to stand in elections under Article 26. The principle is clear: those who fundamentally disagree with the “one country, two systems” formula have no place in the establishment.
The exercise of interpretative power is a highly sensitive issue, as reflected in the right-of-abode saga in 1999. While the Standing Committee’s authority to make interpretations is rooted in the Basic Law, it nonetheless sends shock waves when a legally binding view is imposed on the city. It can be argued that Beijing had legitimate reasons to intervene, as the oaths in question involve “one country”. But critics say it would be unacceptable if democratically elected lawmakers are disqualified as a result, adding that the move would also undermine judicial independence. There are also concerns that the national security law under Article 23 may be revisited sooner than anticipated.
Beijing is determined to keep separatists out of public office. But it would not be surprising if pro-independence sentiment in certain sectors grows stronger as a result. On Sunday, some people veered off a peaceful protest against the interpretation and clashed with police. Worryingly, some localist lawmakers are calling for stronger opposition against the interpretation, raising the stakes even higher. Experience has showed that the more Beijing’s bottom line is challenged, the more likely it will tighten its policies towards the city. This is not in the interest of upholding the “one country, two systems” principle.