Winners and losers in another year of political upheaval for Hong Kong
New leader Carrie Lam had little time to bask in her election victory with many controversial issues to tackle
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor won 777 votes from the largely pro-Beijing, 1,194-strong Election Committee to succeed Leung Chun-ying as Hong Kong’s new chief executive.
She vowed to unite a city divided under the leadership of Leung, who was given the role of vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top mainland advisory body.
While seen as a less divisive figure than Leung, Lam enjoyed little of a honeymoon period, analysts said, citing the imminent need to handle controversial issues such as the “co-location” arrangement at the cross-border high-speed railway terminus at West Kowloon that will see mainland law enforcement officers working in Hong Kong.
Xi Jinping draws red line on Hong Kong independence and lays down Beijing’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’
Beijing stepped up control over Hong Kong in 2017 following the rise of pro-independence forces the year before.
President Xi Jinping, in a speech he gave during his first visit to Hong Kong on the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover, warned against any moves that endanger China’s sovereignty and security, saying that would “cross the red line”.
Three months later at the 19th party congress, Xi elevated policies towards Hong Kong, listing them as one of the 14 points that form the signature “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”.
Xi stressed that the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong should be blended into the long-standing principle of a high degree of autonomy for the city.
Government presses ahead with charges against Joshua Wong, Nathan Law
The year was one of ups and downs for student leaders of the pro-democracy Occupy movement such as Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung.
In August, prosecutors asked an appeal court to jail them for storming government headquarters two days before the start of the Occupy protests in 2014, after they had already completed the non-custodial sentences handed down last year by a magistrate.
The court complied, but the decision – which also implicated fellow student leader Alex Chow Yong-kang – sparked worries and debate over the city’s judicial independence, because the higher court overturned a lower court’s more lenient sentences.
Hong Kong’s highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, in October freed the trio while they awaited an appeal on the jail terms.
Four pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified over their oath-taking antics while two localists ousted from Legco for the same reason lose their appeal at the top court
Four opposition lawmakers – “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim – were stripped of their seats in July by the High Court for improper oath-taking.
That came a year after the administration succeeded in having Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, of the political group Youngspiration, disqualified for their anti-China antics while taking their oaths. The case prompted Beijing to issue an interpretation of the Basic Law, ahead of the court ruling, which would make such offences punishable by disqualification.
The Youngspiration duo lost their final appeal to the highest court, which ruled that the localist pair did not have a reasonably arguable case.
Legco quorum cut to 20, angers pan-democrats
After weeks of antagonism between opposing camps of lawmakers and a dramatic day where 11 pan-democrats were booted out of the chamber for disrupting the ongoing debate, 24 amendments to the Legislative Council’s rule book were passed in December.
Beijing loyalists secured their proposal to lower the quorum requirement from 35 to 20 for meetings of the 70-member council that focus on scrutinising bills. This would effectively make it harder for opponents of bills to call for quorum counts as a means of dragging out the debate.
But the constitutionality of the new law could be tested in court, as ousted lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung has vowed to lodge a judicial review.
Government presses ahead with controversial joint checkpoint arrangement amid objections from pro-democracy camp
Chief Executive Carrie Lam in November signed a controversial deal that would allow mainland Chinese officials to enforce national laws in the heart of the city, but questions remained over the arrangement’s legality.
Under the agreement between Lam and Guangdong provincial governor Ma Xingrui, the West Kowloon terminus of the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion) Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link would house a facility for Hong Kong and mainland authorities to carry out immigration and customs procedures.
Joint checkpoint for rail link ‘in line with Basic Law’, Beijing’s point man on Hong Kong tells China’s top legislative body
The deal, being discussed in Beijing in late December, raised constitutional uncertainties, as officials and legal experts held different views on whether the Basic Law provides the legal basis for the leasing out of part of the terminus where mainland law would apply, including the death penalty – an arrangement the pro-democracy camp saw as a violation of the “one country, two systems” principle.
National People’s Congress Standing Committee extends national anthem law to Hong Kong as soccer fans continue booing at matches
China’s top legislative body in November imposed a national anthem law on Hong Kong in a bid to curb acts that “challenge the bottom line” of “one country, two systems.”
Hongkongers must stand for national anthem even if local law not as severe as mainland China’s, senior Beijing official says
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee inserted the law into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and also endorsed a change to China’s criminal code to make abuse of the national anthem or flag on the mainland punishable by up to three years in prison.
As the new law is still being handled by Hong Kong’s legislature, local fans continue to boo whenever the national anthem is played at international matches. In October, fans unleashed a humiliating sound during the national anthem at an Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia.
Beijing signals impatience over lack of national security laws but Lam is defiant
Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, reiterated in November that Article 23 legislation would be Hong Kong’s “unavoidable duty”.
An attempt to legislate the controversial national security law pushed half a million Hongkongers to march on the streets, with analysts fearing a repeat of instability like Occupy Central in case the government were to start the exercise again.
In a media interview in December, Carrie Lam said she had no plan to launch the legislation “in the coming year”, but did not say whether she planned to do so before the end of her term in 2022.