China bars two Hong Kong politicians as tensions escalate

China's top legislature has taken the rare step of intervening directly in a local Hong Kong political dispute by effectively barring two legally elected separatist politicians from taking office, setting the stage for further turmoil in the semi-autonomous city.

A demonstrator mounts a solo protest over Chinas barring of two independent legislators. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A demonstrator mounts a solo protest over Chinas barring of two independent legislators. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Beijing moved to deny the two a second chance to take their oaths after being disqualified on their initial attempt last month for using anti-China insults and foul language. But the manoeuvre circumvented Hong Kong’s courts, where the case is currently being heard, raising fears that the city’s independent judiciary is being undermined.

The decision, while intended to nip the rise of budding separatism sentiment, has instead raised the spectre of enduring political unrest in Hong Kong, two years after huge crowds of mostly young people occupied major streets for 11 weeks. Those demonstrations failed to win greater democracy but spawned an independence movement.

On Sunday, thousands took to the streets to rally against the anticipated announcement by the Chinese government. Police used pepper spray and batons against some umbrella-wielding demonstrators trying to reach Beijing’s liaison office after the march ended. Four people were arrested and two officers were injured, police said.

The dispute centres on two newly elected pro-independence members of the legislature, Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, who altered their oaths to insert a disparaging Japanese expression for China. Displaying a flag reading “Hong Kong is not China”, they vowed to defend the “Hong Kong nation”. Their oaths were ruled invalid and subsequent attempts have resulted in mayhem in the Legislative Council’s weekly sessions as the council’s president refused to let them try again until the government’s legal challenge is settled.

But Beijing decided to act more quickly. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislative panel, issued a ruling on a section of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, covering oaths taken by officials.

It said talk of independence for Hong Kong is intended to “divide the country” and severely harms the country’s unity, territorial sovereignty and national security. It also said those who advocate independence for Hong Kong are not only disqualified from election and from assuming posts as politicians but should also be investigated for their legal obligations.