The Hong Kong government has hit back at foreign countries critical of Beijing’s recent move to disqualify four local opposition lawmakers, accusing them of applying “double standards” with the aim of sabotaging the relationship between the mainland and the city.
In a strongly worded statement, a government spokesman “vehemently condemned groundless accusations” by the foreign governments and maintained that they, too, required their officials to swear allegiance to their nations, breaches of which would not be tolerated.
“By criticising resolute actions of the [central government] and [the Hong Kong] government to disqualify four [Legislative Council] members who have been confirmed in accordance with the law to have breached the statutory requirements in their oath, those foreign political figures are clearly applying double standards,” the spokesman said.
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The government did not call out any countries by name, although it cited Congress members in the United States and members of parliament in Britain as examples to illustrate its point, maintaining that no country would turn a blind eye to the breaching of oaths or acts of treason by legislators.
The accusations levelled against the Hong Kong government and Beijing, the spokesman said, were “politically motivated with the ulterior motive to undermine the relationship between the central authorities and the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] under one country, two systems”, the principle that promises the city a high degree of autonomy.
The remarks came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “strongly condemned” the resolution handed down by Beijing’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) earlier this week to disqualify Civic Party lawmakers Alvin Yeung Ngor-kiu, Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild.
Their disqualifications prompted Legco’s 15 remaining opposition lawmakers to resign in protest, as well as criticism that Beijing’s move had bypassed the route stated in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Legco chamber to unseat a member.
Under the new resolution, any lawmaker can be stripped of his or her seat immediately if they are deemed to have engaged in a range of acts, from endangering national security to dishonouring their pledge of allegiance and refusing to support China’s sovereignty over the city.
Terming it the “patriotism resolution”, the US secretary of state said the decision had trampled on Hong Kong people’s rights to choose their elected representatives.
The European Union also voiced concern, calling the move a “severe blow” to the city’s political freedom, while British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dubbed it a “further assault on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms”.
But the Hong Kong government countered, maintaining “there is no question of destroying one country, two systems or a high degree of autonomy as claimed by a few”.
“The [government] denounces any such irresponsible remarks by foreign political figures,” the spokesman said, without specifically naming anyone.
On Friday, China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, met Philip Barton, permanent undersecretary of the foreign office in London, according to the embassy’s website.
The embassy said Liu spoke of the repeated “unwarranted accusations” high-level officials from the foreign office had made against Beijing’s move, and said the NPCSC, being the highest lawmaking body in China, had the right to rule on such constitutional issues. He accused the four disqualified lawmakers of disrupting the operation of Hong Kong’s political system and refusing to acknowledge China’s exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
In unseating the four, the NPCSC resolution cited a previous decision by local officials to bar them from running for re-election. Yeung and Dennis Kwok were barred, respectively, for pledging to vote down the government’s budget and for calling for US sanctions on Hong Kong over its handling of last year’s anti-government protests. While Leung and Kwok Ka-ki did not explicitly make such statements, they were disqualified for associating with others who had.
In a separate statement on Saturday responding to the Law Society, which had expressed concern over the resolution’s legal underpinnings, the Hong Kong government said the NPCSC’s ruling offered “clear guidance” on the consequences for those who failed to pledge allegiance.
“It helps ensure the resolute and faithful implementation of one country, two systems,” it said.
But the government’s response ignored concerns from the Bar Association, which represents the city’s barristers, and seven Law Society council members, who issued a separate statement in their own capacity.
In their statements, the groups had criticised the resolution for applying the law retroactively, ignoring existing constitutional procedures for unseating lawmakers, and tarnishing Hong Kong’s tradition of due process by failing to give the four a chance to respond before their disqualifications.
During a radio show on Saturday morning, unseated lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki maintained that, contrary to popular belief, an unnamed member from the Civic Party had actually urged US authorities not to rush to sanction Hong Kong, as they did not wish to see the city’s economy hurt.
He also said he had not decided whether to lodge a judicial challenge against the decision, though he expected it to be an uphill battle if he did.
“Even if there is a legal point we are capable of winning, the National People’s Congress will issue a legal interpretation again,” he said.