Only we can rule on Hong Kong constitution: China


BEIJING: China insisted on 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 statement raised hackles among activists in Hong Kong after months of violent protests over concerns that Beijing is chipping away at the autonomy of the financial hub.

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 move was seen as a watershed legal moment for the city since its 1997 return by Britain to China — but has been largely symbolic.

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.

Zang Tiewei, a spokesman of the National People’s Congress, 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.

He said the ruling had “severely weakened the governance” of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and the city government. Zang also indicated that the legislature might take some form of action.

“We are considering the relevant opinions and suggestions put forward by some NPC deputies,” he said, without elaborating.

Protests started in June as a peaceful condemnation of a now-shelved China extradition bill, but have morphed into a battle to defend unique freedoms unseen on the mainland, which include freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.

Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker, warned that taking away the power of the courts in Hong Kong “will be the end of one country, two systems” — the policy that governs the city.

“This is not a time to burn down your own house or to destroy the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Kwok said.

“Respect the courts in Hong Kong, respect our system and this is the essence of the one country two systems.”

On Twitter, democracy activist Joshua Wong saw the NPC statement as a warning that it would reinterpret Hong Kong’s constitution. “When the state loses, she changes the rules of game. Beijing never intends to play by the rules,” Wong said.