Rebel Hong Kong politicians defy China at chaotic swearing-in ceremony

Pro-democracy politicians cross fingers and make protest signs and subversive references to Beijing’s authoritarian rulers

A new generation of pro-democracy politicians thumbed its nose at China’s authoritarian leaders, with a succession of lawmakers openly defying Beijing during an action-packed swearing-in ceremony for Hong Kong’s parliament.

Nathan Law, a student protest leader who was among six young pro-democracy faces elected to the former colony’s 70-member legislative council last month, quoted Mahatma Gandhi as he publicly rejected Beijing’s authority.

“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body. But you will never imprison my mind,” said Law, 23, the leader of the Demosisto party.

Incoming lawmaker Nathan Law: ‘You will never imprison my mind.’

He dismissed the swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday as a political tool being used by the regime to suppress Hong Kong’s people.

Minutes earlier Sixtus “Baggio” Leung, a 30-year-old pro-independence politician from another recently founded youth party called Youngspiration, made clear his dislike for the mainland by unfurling a blue banner that read: “Hong Kong is not China.”

Sixtus Leung, wrapped in a flag that reads ‘Hong Kong is not China’, took his oath with fingers crossed.
Sixtus Leung, wrapped in a flag that reads ‘Hong Kong is not China’, took his oath with fingers crossed. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Legco’s members were supposed to read a 77-word oath in order to officially begin their four-year terms in office.

That oath contains a pledge to uphold the laws put in place after the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997, as well as to “serve the Hong Kong special administrative region conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity”.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council Oath

— Alan Wong (@alanwongw) October 12, 2016

But Leung refused to stick to the script, telling the chamber his loyalties lay with a place he referred to as “the People’s Republic of Shina”. Shina is an archaic and derogatory way of referring to China in Japanese.

As he read the altered oath, Leung kept the fingers of his right hand firmly crossed.

Yau Wai-ching, another newly elected lawmaker who has said she favours independence from China, also refused to declare her loyalty to Beijing.

Yau Wai-ching pledged allegiance to ‘the People’s Refucking of Shina’.

“I, Yau Wai-ching, do solemnly swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Hong Kong nation and will to the best protect and defend the values of Hong Kong,” said Yau, 25, who is also a member of Youngspiration.

Told she must repeat the oath correctly in order for it to be valid, Yau announced her allegiance to “the Hong Kong special administrative region of the People’s Refucking of Shina”.

Eddie Chu, another member of the new generation of pro-democracy lawmakers, read his oath in full but at the end added: “Democracy and self determination. Autocracy will die!”

A fifth pro-democracy politician, Lau Siu-lai, registered her protest by reading the oath in slow motion.

Newly elected pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung tore up a copy of controversial proposed anti-subversion legislation as he took the oath.
Newly elected pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung tore up a copy of controversial proposed anti-subversion legislation as he took the oath. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

The protests underlined the new challenges facing China’s Communist party leaders as they seek to assert their control over Hong Kong’s vibrant political scene, which stands in stark contrast to the mainland’s rigid one-party system.

Beijing appeared to have successfully stared down a challenge from pro-democracy activists in 2014 when it refused to cede any political ground in spite of a 79-day street occupation hailed the umbrella movement.

Those mass demonstrations were initially dismissed as a debacle, given their failure to extract any concrete concessions.

But two years later several of the protests’ key leaders have regrouped and – in a sign of growing frustration with Chinese rule – were voted into the legislative council last month in a historic election.

Experts now anticipate political fireworks as moderate voices from Hong Kong’s traditional pro-democracy camp are replaced by a less compromising and more outspoken generation of activists who feel no allegiance to China.

Many in this new group believe the “one country, two systems” framework – under which Hong Kong is ruled with greater freedoms than the mainland – is on the verge of collapse as a result of Beijing’s growing meddling. Some advocate full independence from China, a suggestion which has enraged Beijing.

Re-elected lawmaker and democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung held an umbrella – a protest symbol – at the Legislative Council.
The re-elected lawmaker and democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung held an umbrella – a protest symbol – at the Legislative council. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Not everyone chose to snub Beijing during the opening session of Legco, which has a 40-strong pro-China bloc.

In a sign of her dedication to China, Ann Chiang opted to read her oath in Mandarin, the language of the mainland, rather than that of Hong Kong, Cantonese. Chiang is a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the former colony’s biggest pro-Beijing party.

In a recent interview the party’s vice-chairman, Holden Chow, claimed independence from China would be a disaster for his city and defended closer ties with Beijing.

“I see a lot of good with having the support and the back-up from the mainland, from the central government, and I am proud of the fact that we are Chinese,” he said.


Tom Phillips in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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