By Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dozens of pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a walk-out from the Hong Kong legislature on Wednesday to stall the swearing-in of two pro-independence lawmakers, setting the scene for a looming constitutional crisis in the Chinese-ruled city.
The topic of independence has long been taboo in the former British colony, now governed under the “one country, two systems” principle since its return to Communist Party-ruled China in 1997.
The government failed in an unprecedented legal attempt to halt the swearing-in of the two, Baggio Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, on Tuesday.
The lawmakers marched out of the Legislative Council chamber, leaving Chinese and Hong Kong flags in their place, to deprive it of a quorum.
Senior pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip said she generally disapproved of walk-outs, but the legislators had no option after the pair refused to apologize for “insulting our motherland”.
“This is a very exceptional case involving a fundamental principle which involves loyalty to your country and adherence to our oath of upholding the … law,” she said.
Yau said it was the pro-establishment camp that needed to apologize as they were “the ones who really betrayed the Hong Kong people”.
It is unclear when the swearing-in will now take place.
The government will take the decision of legislative authorities to allow Yau and Leung to re-take their oaths to the High Court next month.
Yau and Leung sparked outrage from Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing establishment when their first oaths were rejected by legislative officials last week.
Then they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a banner declaring that “Hong Kong is not China”, using language some legislators portrayed as derogatory Japanese slang.
Leung and Yau are part of a new generation of Hong Kong activists determined to force issues of self-determination and independence on to the mainstream political agenda.
Street protests calling for full democracy for Hong Kong that blocked key arteries in 2014 presented Communist Party rulers in Beijing with one of their biggest political headaches in decades.
Outside the chamber, hundreds of pro-Beijing protesters thronged the grounds of the legislature, some carrying placards of the pair dressed in Japanese army uniforms that denounced them as “traitors” and “dogs”.
Others chanted that the pair must step down to protect China’s “dignity”.
The judicial review looms as a unprecedented constitutional battle in the free-wheeling global financial hub, testing its rule of law and the separation of powers between the government and legislative branch.
Some senior judges and government officials fear privately the issue could force Beijing to invoke rarely used to powers to re-interpret Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or push through new laws.
(Reporting Venus Wu and Farah Master, Editing by Greg Torode and Nick Macfie)
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