My Take

Beijing’s ‘decree’ on oaths a warning to Hong Kong government

The threat to disqualify up to 15 lawmakers is unrealistic, but serves the purpose of getting the city’s authorities to put their house in order

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 12:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 10:59am

More sabre rattling from Beijing? Besides Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, 13 other legislators may lose their seats because of their improper oath-taking.

That’s according to Wang Zhenmin, legal department head of Beijing’s liaison office.

If that’s the case, it means removing half the pan-democratic camp from the Legislative Council. While the prospect is no doubt appealing to Beijing, is it realistic?

If Beijing wants to declare war, it might as well kick out all the pan-democrats and localists from the legislature. The legal and political consequences would be just as dire whether you remove 15 or all 30 of them.

Beijing should quit while it’s still ahead. The latest interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on the oath-taking of principal officials may be controversial. But it is probably tolerated by many Hong Kong people, who have been genuinely turned off by the offensive and mindless antics of Leung and Yau. There is no dispute that the NPC interpretation will apply to both lawmakers-elect.

Hongkongers want oath-taking controversy resolved under Basic Law, CCTV says

But with the other 13, it would be impossible to justify on any reasonable legal or political ground. Whether they swore only once or had to do it a second time, their oaths have been accepted by the Legco president and secretary-general. Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei claims the NPC interpretation is retroactive, and so is applicable to them.

But the original text of the NPC judgment says nothing about it being retroactive. As a barrister friend has pointed out, there is no such thing as retroactivity in common law, and Article 8 of the Basic Law guarantees the continuity of the common law after China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.

My guess is that Beijing isn’t trying to remove those lawmakers at this time. Its warnings are directed not so much at them as at the Hong Kong government.

Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, has blasted local prosecutors and judges for “not living up to people’s expectations” in defending breaches of national security and making it “almost cost-free to oppose and commit crimes against Beijing”.

As examples, he cited the storming of the PLA barracks in late 2013, the Occupy protests of 2014 and the Mong Kok riot earlier this year.

In other words, if you don’t do your job, we will do it for you.