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Democracy

Sieren's China: Heavy-handed undertaking in Hong Kong

Beijing has prevented two members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council from taking their seats. This is heavy-handed, says DW's Frank Sieren.

What would happen if a German member of parliament were to say "Poland is ours!"? Though he is in theory answerable only to his conscience, he would be forced to step down. The same would be the case if an MP declared Bavarian independence. At first, he would be laughed at then the fun would stop.

So, from this perspective, it is not that surprising that two freshly elected members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council have been prevented from taking their seats. After Beijing barred them, a Hong Kong court returned the same verdict.

Compulsory oath of allegiance

The situation according to Hong Kong law is clear: Article 104 of the constitution states that Hong Kong legislators have to make an official oath of allegiance. They cannot refuse to take the oath, or change its wording. Yet, that's exactly what the 25-year-old Yau Wai-ching and the 30-year-old Sixtus "Baggio" Leung did. On 12.10.16 they pledged allegiance not to the Hong Kong constitution but to the nation of Hong Kong. They also bore a flag saying that Hong Kong was not China. China's central government promptly stepped in and barred the two from taking office. A Hong Kong court supported their disqualification.

Frank Sieren Kolumnist Handelsblatt Bestseller Autor China (Frank Sieren)

DW columnist Frank Sieren

This might make sense in formal terms but not politically. Now, thousands have taken to the streets of Hong Kong to protest against Beijing and there have already been riots. Police used batons and pepper spray against demonstrators who tried to storm a barricade. 

Beijing has added fuel to the fire and landed itself greater resistance than before. It would have made more sense to ignore the young MPs' stupidity and simply make them take the official oath again. It would have made even more sense to ignore the incident and just let the Hong Kong court issue its ruling. The courts did not have much elbowroom with the current legislation anyway.

Putting everything on the line

It would also have made sense for the legislators to not put everything on the line but to make a name for themselves and their movement through hard graft in parliament. They might have inspired new momentum. They must have known what the consequences of their actions would be. There is still some hope for supporters of the pro-democracy movement, however: Two of their leaders are now in parliament.

Now, the question is what will the government do to put an end to the demonstrations. Tact is imperative.

 

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

 

 

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