Beijing has extended the term of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by at least one year to plug the gap created by the postponement of polls, paving the way for four opposition lawmakers recently banned from seeking re-election to stay in the chamber. However, in announcing the resolution approving the extension, the National People’s Congress Standing committee on Tuesday steered clear of deciding the eventual fate of the four, effectively throwing the ball back to the Hong Kong government, which had turned to it for resolution. It will now be up to the city’s government to decide whether the four – Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Kwok Ka-ki and Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party, and the accountancy sector’s Kenneth Leung – can continue in their roles without any conditions or will have to meet certain obligations, such as retaking their oath of allegiance to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution the Basic Law. Pro-Beijing lawmakers welcomed the decision, framing it as an amicable way out of the lacuna, but the city’s opposition camp was unimpressed. Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit accused Beijing of taking the “least controversial approach” after local authorities triggered a political storm by disqualifying 12 hopefuls from September’s Legislative Council elections, before then delaying the polls by a year citing the coronavirus pandemic. In a joint statement, 22 pan-democrat lawmakers criticised Beijing’s move, arguing that by extending the Legco term by at least a year, it had contravened Article 69 of the Basic Law, which states that each term should last only for four. Beijing’s expected bid to let banned Hong Kong lawmakers finish Legco term seen as effort to mollify US The NPCSC’s decision came about after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor filed an emergency report to Beijing on the postponement of elections, asking for a determination, as the law only specified four-year terms for the local legislature. Lam and analysts expected the NPCSC to issue a directive resolving any outstanding constitutional issues caused by her decision. But the NPCSC issued only a brief decision on the “continued performance of duties by the sixth Legco” after its four-year term was due to expire, stating that the next Legco term would stick to the Basic Law’s rule of four years, instead of shortening it to three years, as some pundits had suggested. “According to the decision, after September 30, 2020, the sixth Legco of the Hong Kong special administrative region will continue to perform its duties for not less than a year, until the start of the term of the seventh Legco,” the decision read. “After the seventh Legco is formed in accordance with the law, its term would still be four years.” State broadcaster CCTV reported on Tuesday that in concluding the four-day meeting, NPCSC chairman Li Zhanshu said the decision would “provide the constitutional basis and legal safeguards for the administration’s normal governance.” A spokesman for the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the latest decision showed that “since the city’s handover in 1997, the central government has always been wholeheartedly concerned about the city’s well-being.” Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong also said in a statement that the NPCSC’s directive could not be challenged legally. “This will help the whole society to focus on pandemic control,” it said. Hong Kong elections: opposition torn between boycotting Legislative Council and sticking around to stage fierce fight Lam also issued a statement welcoming Beijing’s decision. After a meeting with Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, she revealed her government would publish the NPCSC decision in The Gazette as soon as possible, to enable the sixth Legco to “resume operation at an early juncture when necessary.” In a joint statement, 42 pro-establishment lawmakers said the decision would help Hong Kong focus its energies on fighting the pandemic, which has seen 4,181 infections and 58 deaths as of Tuesday. “The NPCSC has fully considered the special situation of Hong Kong, and respected the city government’s opinion,” the camp said. Amid the uncertainty over the standing of the four lawmakers, Legco president Leung said on Tuesday he did not think any lawmaker should be made to retake their oath when the new session opens. “We only do that in the first year of the term. According to our laws, I think we don’t need to take our oath again,” he said. NPC deputy Wong Kwan-yu, meanwhile, revealed that a senior central government official told Hong Kong deputies who attended the Standing Committee meeting that Beijing was aware of various proposals to handle the vacuum triggered by the postponement of the Legco elections. “The official told us they noted some Hong Kong people wanted to unseat the four lawmakers in the extended term. But … the original intention of the NPCSC is to handle the legal gap, and it’s inappropriate to tackle other issues,” he said. Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the NPCSC, said the Hong Kong government would have to determine whether the disqualified lawmakers need to undergo extra procedures. “The NPCSC solved the one-year vacuum problem … The rest is for the Hong Kong government to handle,” Tam said. I don’t think the mess can be cleaned up in such a way to allow Hong Kong to regain the trust of the international community. What is gone is gone Civic Party chairman Alan Leong The four opposition legislators declined to comment on the NPCSC’s decision on Tuesday. But Alan Leong, chairman of the Civic Party, said Beijing’s decision could not be seen as an indication of the central government taking a lenient approach towards Hong Kong. “How can this be good news for us, when [past decisions] were made most unconstitutionally and illegally? Now Beijing was only choosing to wrap up the mess in the least controversial way,” he said. But Leong also hoped the decision was a sign that Beijing was eager to mend the sociopolitical divide in Hong Kong. Explainer: debate over proposal to allow voting in mainland China, with critics raising fears of fraud, lack of scrutiny “That could be just my wishful thinking … I don’t think the mess can be cleaned up in such a way to allow Hong Kong to regain the trust of the international community. What is gone is gone, I don’t think that by taking the least controversial approach, Beijing can win back the trust and heart of Hong Kong people,” he said. Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Executive Council, Carrie Lam’s de facto cabinet, said the four disqualified lawmakers could stay in the extended term. “There is no requirement under existing laws in Hong Kong for incumbent lawmakers to take their oath again,” he said.