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Beijing to Hong Kong: We make the laws

Zāng Tiěwěi 臧铁伟, the spokesperson of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. 


The Hong Kong High Court overturned a ban on face masks on Monday — worn by anti-government protesters — with two judges calling it “incompatible with the Basic Law.”

Beijing disagrees with the ruling — and also with the fact that it was ruled on at all. Agence France-Presse reports:

China insisted Tuesday it alone held the authority to rule on constitutional matters in Hong Kong, as it condemned a decision by the city’s high court to overturn a ban on face masks worn by pro-democracy protesters…

The ban on face-covering came into force in October, when the city’s unelected pro-Beijing leader invoked colonial-era legislation for the first time in more than 50 years…The city’s high court ruled on Monday that the government ban on face masks was unconstitutional. But Beijing said the judicial branch of the special administrative region had overreached.

[National People’s Congress spokesperson] Zāng Tiěwěi 臧铁伟 said only the legislature had the right to rule on whether a law is in accordance with the Basic Law — the city’s mini-constitution. “No other institution has the right to make judgements or decisions,” Zang said, according to a state media report posted on the NPC’s website [in Chinese].

Further justification of the move is gladly furnished by propaganda rag Global Times: Central government final arbiter of Basic Law issues (or here in Chinese).

“If this is a formal/official position, then this completely and fundamentally alters the landscape of the HK legal system and could quite legitimately be said to mean the end of the rule of law as we know it in HK,” commented corporate lawyer and author Antony Dapiran on Twitter. Or as Dapiran put it in this Financial Times story (paywall): “You either have the rule of law or you don’t.”

If there was any doubt as to the Party’s resolve, its official People’s Daily newspaper sent one of its strongest signals yet that the leadership is not prepared to acknowledge the demands of Hong Kong protesters, or to reach any sort of compromise in a front-page commentary today (in Chinese), per China Media Project. Excerpt:

“On this question concerning national sovereignty, concerning the fate of Hong Kong,” says the editorial, “there is no middle ground, there is not the least bit of margin for compromise.”

The Hong Kong Bar Association does not agree with Beijing. RTHK reports:

The Bar Association on Tuesday sternly repudiated comments by China’s top legislative affairs body that Hong Kong courts have no power to decide whether local laws are constitutional, saying this suggestion is legally incorrect, restricts the power of local courts, is contrary to the Basic Law, and undermines the high degree of autonomy granted to the territory under the mini-constitution.

Other news from the City of Protest:  

Yesterday was relatively quiet in Hong Kong. But, “No resolution to the bitter stand-off at Hong Kong Polytechnic University appeared to be in sight on Tuesday night as 60 to 100 protesters remained on campus, determined to resist capture and not join the 1,000 who had so far either surrendered or been arrested,” reports the South China Morning Post. Away from Hong Kong Polytechnic, “Tuesday night offered a respite of sorts for police, with only about 100 protesters active in Mong Kok.”

Other reports: 

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.

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