China’s top agency overseeing Hong Kong said lawmakers blocking action by the local legislature were potentially violating their oaths, in a signal that Beijing was losing patience with the monthslong legislative logjam.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office urged the city’s Legislative Council in a statement released Monday to end the stalemate and resume normal operations. Opposition lawmakers led by Civic Party member Dennis Kwok have prevented the body’s agenda-setting House Committee from electing a chairman since October, barring the panel from conducting business, it said.
“Some opposition lawmakers have resorted to sleazy tactics to paralyze the legislature for political gain at the expense of the public, which is tantamount to ‘political mutual destruction,’” the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said. “They could have violated their oath, which could mean misconduct in public office.”
The remarks represent an unusually direct intervention in Hong Kong’s local legislative procedures by a central agency in Beijing. The 70-seat Legislative Council is vested with the power to pass laws under a “one country, two systems” framework set up before the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
The ability to stall the government’s legislative initiatives has been one the few levers of political power available to the government’s elected opponents. In recent years, the Chinese government and its appointed local leaders have sought to set limits on the body’s power, successfully getting several activists removed for violating their oaths of office.
Both the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and China’s Liaison Office in the city have “no power or right to influence or comment on how Legco and its subcommittees operate and how Legco members fulfill their responsibilities,” Kwok said in an emailed statement from his office Monday.
The Hong Kong government’s response to the virus isn’t “required to be vetted by the House Committee. Hence, aid to Hong Kong citizens hasn’t been delayed because of the House Committee,” he added. “Any delay would be because the government has been too slow in their roll out and/or they are marred by bureaucracy.”
The Legislative Council has accomplished little since protesters stormed and ransacked the chamber last year as part of a series of demonstrations that began in opposition to a bill that would allow extraditions to China. The full chamber is up for election in September.
The statement was the first from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office since Xia Baolong — a former close aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping — was installed as its director on Feb. 13. The Hong Kong-based Liaison Office issued a similar statement Monday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed concern last month that the House Committee gridlock could delay the installation of a new chief judge next year. All top judicial appointments require the Legislative Council’s approval.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office urged city residents to recognize the serious consequences that could result from the opposition’s actions. “The legislative council must resume normal operations as soon as possible,” it said.