Elected representatives of Hong Kong's Youngspiration party deliberately mangled their oaths of office, refusing to swear loyalty to China (instead swearing to Hong Kong) and pronouncing China as "Shina," a term dating from the Japanese occupation of China (they also held up a banner that said "Hong Kong is not China").
There is a tradition in Hong Kong of adding editorial notes or slogans to oaths of office, but a HK court has previously ruled that the oath itself must be uttered verbatim.
The protesting lawmakers, Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, were associated with the Umbrella Revolution, in which Hong Kong people took to the streets to protest Beijing's insistence on a veto over who could stand for office in Hong Kong, which is, constitutionally, a semi-independent territory. After the Youngspiration reps' oaths were rejected, officials in Beijing intervened -- without being asked to by HK authorities -- to insist that they were permanently disqualified from taking office. This alarmed HK lawyers, lawmakers, and activists.
The ensuing street protests turned violent in the face of a brutal police crackdown that recalled the worst days of the Umbrella Revolution.
Other disputed Chinese territories -- Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan -- are watching the crackdown closely (the video above, from notorious news-satire animation studio Taiwanese Animators, should be viewed through this lens). Hong Kong is the most constitutionally independent territory in China, and the other disputed territories will presumably get even less lenience from Beijing.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy from the mainland, and the Basic Law outlines how this “one country, two systems” principle is put into practice. According to Article 158 of the Basic Law, any interpretation request directed to Beijing should first come from a local authority, specifically a local court:
If the courts of the Region, in adjudicating cases, need to interpret the provisions of this Law concerning affairs which are the responsibility of the Central People's Government, or concerning the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Region, and if such interpretation will affect the judgments on the cases, the courts of the Region shall, before making their final judgments which are not appealable, seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress through the Court of Final Appeal of the Region.
This is not the first time the National People's Congress has tried to interpret the Basic Law, but in all four of those past instances the government never challenged Hong Kong's local courts by preempting a ruling. Hong Kong's representative in Beijing reportedly argued that the oath issue concerns “national sovereignty,” making it a priority for the national government.
Street Protests as Beijing Preempts Hong Kong Courts With New Interpretation of ‘Basic Law’
[Oiwan Lam/Global Voices]