Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong legislators to vote on Cheng Chung-tai’s future over flag-flipping antics

Censure motion aimed at Cheng Chung-tai, who upended small Chinese and Hong Kong flags, unlikely to pass. But localist still decries move as ‘political persecution’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 7:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 7:30am

Hong Kong lawmakers will vote on kicking localist Cheng Chung-tai from the chamber, after a panel found he breached his oath of office by turning small replica Chinese and city flags upside down at a meeting two years ago.

The censure motion, which could come as early as next month, was unlikely to get the required backing of two-thirds of Legislative Council members present and voting.

The seven-member investigation committee, comprising only pro-Beijing legislators, released its report on Wednesday after a 13-month probe and hearings during which five lawmakers, including Ted Hui Chi-fung from the opposition Democratic Party, and two Legco staff members testified.

The report concluded that Cheng’s “conduct of openly and deliberately humiliating the national flag and regional flag constitutes both a breach of oath and misbehaviour”.

It went on: “[The investigation committee] condemns Dr Cheng’s conduct, and comes to the unanimous view that the facts as established constitute grounds for the censure of Dr Cheng.”

The finding will lead to a motion to censure Cheng, which, if passed, would remove him from his seat.

Committee chairman Priscilla Leung Mei-fun dismissed claims that the investigation might not have been fair, having been conducted only by pro-government lawmakers.

“We welcome all Legco members to join and we also invite the opposition camp lawmakers to express views [in hearings], but they chose not to do so,” she said.

Any Legco member is free to nominate a colleague to sit on censure committees, but pan-democrats chose to boycott the process in this instance.

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Leung added: “We hope to be able to set a standard that can meet the public expectation that legislators should be serious about our job. Legislators should not act in a childish manner, and it is wrong to insult our country in the chamber during a meeting.”

She would not comment on how members would vote during the censure motion, which she estimated could be tabled at Legco as early as May 9. She said: “Whether the censure motion can get passed or not is not the committee’s major concern. How members will vote is their own decision. But we are of the view that the public will not support a lawmaker who would insult his own country.”

On October 19, 2016, lawmakers from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong put the miniature flags on their desks in the chamber, to protest against several pro-independence members’ bids to retake their oaths, which had previously been ruled invalid. Cheng upended the flags after pro-government members left the chamber to prevent the retaking

Cheng had argued his intention was just to poke fun at the pro-establishment camp for their “cheap display of patriotism”.

The legislator, who declined to testify at committee hearings, on Wednesday criticised the investigation as “political persecution”. He said: “My act was to express discontent with the pro-establishment camp’s walkout that day. The pro-establishment members leaving the flags behind unattended was not a patriotic move either.”

He also said he was not too worried and did not expect a censure motion to come any time soon, given legislators had to deal with the controversial bill for border control arrangements at the high-speed rail line to mainland China.

The investigation committee said its conclusion had taken into account the court ruling from September 2017, when Cheng was found guilty of desecrating the national and Hong Kong flags and fined HK$5,000. 

In December 2016, pro-government legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun offered a motion to censure Cheng for his antics.

Cheng was also set to lose his job as a lecturer at Polytechnic University in disciplinary action over his desecration conviction. The legislator, who completed a bachelor’s degree at PolyU before a doctorate at Peking University, is part-time at PolyU, teaching classes on contemporary Chinese society and popular culture.

He became the first member of his party, Civic Passion, to enter Legco during the 2016 elections.