HK gets a Xi-era ‘interpretation’


This is the beginning of the end for Hong Kong, with ‘One Country Two Systems’ in shatters and rule of law now nonexistent. At the same time, the Hang Seng Index – crude but dependable proxy for day-to-day common-sense reality – ends up 159 points.

This is usual with Basic Law ‘interpretations’. Each one, in its own way, has infringed legal principles and damaged rule of law – but with a narrow intent. Procedurally, they offend fundamental values, but they chip away only tiny parts of the legal framework, so 99.99% of life goes on. In this sense, Claudia Mo’s hysterics are over the top, and even the clichéd ‘boiled frog’ analogy is inapt. At this rate (five times since 1999), it will take Beijing decades to damage Hong Kong’s legal system so badly that life as we know it collapses.

The ‘interpretation’ mechanism exists to override Hong Kong’s laws and courts, thus bringing the city’s independent judiciary under the national umbrella of a one-party state that cannot accommodate separation of powers. In practice, it is used to fix faults and plug loopholes in Hong Kong’s Beijing-bestowed autonomous legal structure – but in a face-saving way (the Communist Party wrote a flawless Basic Law, but dumb Hongkongers need to have it explained to them).

The most laughable ‘interpretation’ was the one that decided that a replacement Chief Executive stepping in to finish a predecessor’s uncompleted term would nonetheless go through an ‘election’ and subsequently be considered to have served one whole term – a ludicrous contrivance to send a message that Sir Donald ‘Bow-tie’ Tsang wouldn’t be around for too long.

stan-byelectionHowever, this latest diktat is decidedly non-funny. It is aimed at barring at least two localist (and possibly other, including non-localist) elected members from the Legislative Council. In other words, it establishes a loyalty test to prevent the election of people who hold particular opinions. It is still an ‘interpretation’ in that it identifies and corrects a specific fault in the laws Beijing allows Hong Kong to use. But it is one for the post-2012 clampdown-on-everything-repeatedly world. It is interpretation in the time of Xi Jinping – an era when you can be snatched off Hong Kong streets and smuggled across the border for a forced confession, but only if you’re publishing a book about the Communist Party leader’s mistresses (otherwise you’re still fine).

stan-courtaloneThis decree essentially writes new law, intrudes in our elections (to an already rigged and largely powerless body), and it introduces bizarre and alien concepts such as legally forbidding a lack of sincerity. But freaking out about it will achieve nothing. The Oath-taking (Separatists (Smirking (Prohibition))) Ordinance is not going to bring the city crashing down. It is going to be part of reality, and the issue is how people adjust to it, and whether pan-democrats can put the idiocy of the ruling to good use.

For example: is a Legislative Council from which democratically elected candidates are barred a terrible and distressing injustice – or is it an opportunity to highlight the irrelevance and illegitimacy of the whole political system? How can forthcoming by-elections be fought (or boycotted) to maximum effect? If localists and other pan-dems are barred from the legislature, where do they go, and what do they do? And, just as the pan-dems are about to splinter and screw up, will Beijing really be dumb enough to have another go at Article 23?

Beijing’s Li Fei, who announced the ruling, made it clear that the Chinese leadership is alarmed at splittists in Hong Kong (we’ll leave aside the possible CCP power-struggle angle). The Xi regime seems clueless about the extent, let alone the causes, of disquiet in Hong Kong. Chinese officials apparently expect this latest legal contortion to somehow make pro-independence sentiment disappear, and all will then be well. The phrase we keep hearing is ‘nip it in the bud’, as if the tiny idea has barely sprouted. Instead, by dumping this manure on the place, Beijing is surely helping the noxious weed spread faster than ever.

Meanwhile, Taiwan and the world may like to note how the mighty resurgent 21st Century’s greatest superpower is intimidated by a handful of Hong Kong’s geekiest kids.


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12 Responses to HK gets a Xi-era ‘interpretation’

  1. Chris Maden says:

    The previous five reinterpretations, although those reinterpretations had an equally predictable outcomes (and equally tortuous logic), at least followed the process of law. The real damage this time is not the interpretation, but that it by-passed due process in its entirety.

  2. Real Fax Paper says:

    I dunno, I think there is quite plausible scenario where this does bring the city crashing down. I suspect CY is (or rather, his sponsors in Sai Wan are) on course to take out Nathan Law, Lau Siu-Lai, and either Long Hair or, if they’re really feeling ballsy, Eddie Chu. Then spend an age organising by-elections, citing administrative difficulties, while ramming Art 23 through a 65 seat Legco that only has 18 pan dems left, short of the 19 they’d need to block it.

    And then all hell really will break loose.

    Why they would do this is another story, but I think the factional power struggle theory has merit. Or they really are that paranoid and cravenly stupid; either fits the observable facts. What hasn’t been observable is any hint that they will back off now.

    Evidence for this scenario – CY bringing up Art 23 almost the second the NPC had ruled. CY saying today that there are currently no plans for by-elections. Starry Lee obediently singling out Lau Siu-Lai’s oath. Oh, it’s on. It’s on like Donkey Kong. In, er, Hong Kong.

  3. It’s time to leave, isn’t it?

    Thank you Hong Kong. You used to be quite nice really. Before the Commies arrived.

    I don’t like living in a place where I only have privileges and no rights.

    Let’s see: Kuwait, Russia, Vietnam, Turkey…so many jobs available.

    I think you ought to sell up and move back to Sussex.

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    I don’t see that this is the end or anywhere near the end. The interpretation is surprisingly moderate and could have been much worse. Yes, the timing is not good because it undermines the ongoing court case and that is a concern. Claudia MO’s comments are shrill nonsense. She egged these two kids on and is now exploiting their fate for her political purpose … Beijing can be deceitful, but Claudia is no slouch in being deceitful.

  5. HillnotPeak says:

    Ah yes, the great legal minds of the north have spoken. Remember, these are communists, killing millions of their own isn’t a big deal over there.
    If the local police can’t handle any new demonstrations, they won’t hesitate a second to move the PLA in. I already noticed a high frequency of PLA vehicles on Island Road/Repulse Bay Road. Maybe we south siders can storm the Stanley barracks with our porsches, ferraris and bentleys.

  6. Cassowary says:

    Last time, Article 23 was averted because several hundred thousand people held a protest march and the Liberals lost their nerve.

    Consider the rematch. The Liberals are already in the dog house. Their four members aren’t needed for a simple majority.

    In 2003, a large peaceful protest was enough to spook Beijing. After Occupy Central, they’re prepared to deal with a full scale riot. They probably think the uppity Hong Kongers are itching to riot regardless, so they might as well get it over with and acquire the legal tools to throw those fools in prison.

  7. Headache says:

    Ok, so this is just one cut, it will be decades until we reach a thousand, and rumours of Hong Kong’s death have been greatly exaggerated. But the fascists over the border absolutely do have the will, the means and the patience to finish the job in its entirety.

    The rule of law guarantees the freedoms and the way of life we’ve enjoyed here, and this is a heavy blow to it. It might not have hit the Hang Seng, and maybe the bankers (those paragons of virtue) don’t give a shit, but it’s reverberating throughout the social and political fabric of the city.

    Anyone who says this isn’t a big deal either doesn’t care about Hong Kong and its people or is engaging in self-delusion about how bad things have actually become. The rest of us will be out on the streets in the coming days.

  8. LRE says:

    Well for once I sort of agree with Enid (free of the curse of Candida Albicans, I’m relieved to see) — it’s time for anyone with sense to seriously consider where to go next, as it’s basically all downhill at a faster and faster pace from here.

    At some point over the next decade Beijing will inevitably kill hundreds or thousands of protestors here, so the smart money’s going to run away soon and the stupid money will bail when the blood starts running in the streets.

    Frankly, a city populated exclusively by demented old dears who will vote for Dim Sum; angry blue ribbon numpties bowing and scraping to serve mainland tourists; the thinking intolerant; and people who are too poor to escape but too clever to enjoy communism doesn’t appeal like Hong Kong did.

    Not enough stroppy, dodgy pirates to be fun, not enough rich or middle classes to feed or work in the financial stuff: think Macao, but without all the casinos and restaurants.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    “when blood runs down the streets, buy property.” – (some Jew. Or was it Li Ka-shing ?)

  10. Stephen says:


    Calm down it’s a slow tortuous decline not the Russian revolution – Death by a thousand cuts and the one that makes you bleed will be the time you move your assets, family and then yourself out.

    International Banks will eventually move entirely to Singapore, leaving just a token presence here. Legal services – what the point and our port has been declining for years. Anything else we do ? The best and brightest of our talent will disappear overseas. Even those who have formerly sucked up to the CCP – Li Ka Shing (?) are slowly their businesses out. The survival of the CCP is paramount and Hong Kong needs to get over itself and understand nobody really cares. Ronny will take his cash to Canada, Claudia to England and their properties will be sold to Mainlanders.

  11. Joe Blow says:

    I would move to San Luis Obispo, on the California coast. But I am not moving.

  12. WTF says:

    Where is there rule of law, the UN definition, not the simplest fiction in most minds. It’s not, in the UK; ask Assange. It’s not in the USA, . It’s never been in HK.

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