What Is Going on in Hong Kong?

BY SUZANNE SATALINE / OCTOBER 17, 2016 / ForeignPolicy.com

There’s a bit of a nanny state in the city of Hong Kong. The government is quick to issue advice and admonitions about all matter of hazards — high ocean waves, food waste, incense burning during the annual grave-sweeping festival. One night in late 2014, amid a standoff during the massive democracy protest that rocked the city, a police official squawked through a bullhorn: do not swear. The response was a lusty spasm of curses. Still, many residents were surprised when government officials posted a note online on Oct. 11, the day before the new session of the city’s Legislative Council, saying lawmakers of the officially (but not always truly) autonomous government were required by constitution to “swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.” China exercises sovereignty over Hong Kong, but agreed to let the former British colony function under a separate system until at least 2047. The notice warned that a lawmaker who failed to state the oath as written, or who altered the wording to make it “inconsistent with” the written ordinance, “shall vacate office or be disqualified from entering.” To government opponents, the warning must have sounded like an invitation.

The territory’s government, which maintains cozy ties with Beijing, has scrambled to deal with a new breed of political opposition. Weeks before the legislative elections in September, the elections bureau asked every candidate hoping to appear on the ballot to pledge that the territory was aninalienable part of China, an unprecedented requirement that launched an uproar. The city barred several pro-independence candidates from running;two have filed court appeals. If their petitions succeed, a court would likely overturn the election results in those districts, requiring new balloting there.

The men and woman struck from the ballot urged residents to stand up to Beijing, a message that swayed many voters. On election day, Sept. 4, one-fifth of a record 2.2 million people who cast ballots chose candidates who either advocated independence or wanted voters to choose the territory’s future government, a right they currently lack. A growing number of city residents say Beijing has whittled down their constitutional rights, despite assurances made in 1997 when Britain handed its former colony to Beijing, that a one-country, two-systems arrangement would preserve Hong Kong’s rights for 50 years.

By law, and before they can start their jobs, all 70 Hong Kong lawmakers must repeat a phrase swearing loyalty to the People’s Republic. Yet several new members had run on platforms pledging to wrench Hong Kong’s independence from China, or to fight for a referendum to let city residents choose such a path. How could they pledge fealty to a government they hoped to divorce?

On Oct. 12, some chose to recite their own vows. Eddie Chu, a land rights activist, gave the required pledge, but added: “Democracy and self-determination. Autocracywill die!” Secretary-General Kenneth Chen, who administered the oaths, allowed him to take his seat. But Chen scolded newcomer Yau Wai-ching from deviating from the official text, as the 25-year-old member of upstart political party Youngspiration unfurled a large blue banner that declared Hong Kong is not China. “I will uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Refucking of Shina,” she read, hurrying through the lines twice more, as if she expected to be pulled off the floor. (The term “Shina” is considered derogatory, and was used by Japanese during the occupation, although some scholars have noted earlier uses.) Youngspiration founder Sixtus Leung, known as Baggio, wrapped himself in the anti-China banner and, fingers crossed, changed hispronunciation of “China.” Later, he told reporters that his accent was to blame. Read more…

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