Basic Law Committee Chair Li Fei has said that self-determination is the same as Hong Kong independence and therefore contravenes the territory’s mini-constitution. Analysts say that lawmakers who challenge China’s sovereignty will be at risk of disqualification despite having been sworn-in.

The comment came shortly after China’s top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), voted on and passed The NPCSC’s interpretation of the Basic Law Article 104 of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with unanimous support on Monday. It is the fifth Basic Law interpretation since the 1997 handover.

See also: HKFP Live: Beijing intervenes in Hong Kong oath row, makes rare ruling to block pro-independence lawmakers

li fei
Li Fei. Photo: Now TV screenshot.


Li said that concepts such as national self-determination and the Hong Kong nation are “essentially” the same as Hong Kong independence, which would contravene the Basic Law which states that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China. It would also damage the territory’s rule of law, social order and economy, he said.

Li added that pledging loyalty to Hong Kong and not China practically means support for Hong Kong independence.

Although Li referred to “national self-determination,” which is advocated by the Youngspiration party, there are concerns that advocates of “democratic self-determination” – such as the Demosistō party and independent lawmakers Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim – will also be affected.

The latest NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law said that oaths taken by public officers such as lawmakers and judges are legally binding. It warns that those who make a “false oath” or break their oath will be disqualified from assuming public office and bear “legal consequences.”

Lau Siu-lai.
Lau Siu-lai. Photo: Cloud.

‘Lawmakers at risk of disqualification’

Professor Lau Siu-kai, former top policy adviser to the government, said on an RTHK programme on Monday that Beijing needed to interpret the Basic Law to make clear its strong stance against moves that could harm China’s national interests. The introduction of a national security law would not have effectively solved the imminent issue, he added.

He said the future of Hong Kong should be decided by the whole of China, and that the territory has no right to become independent.

Lau added that the scale of the pro-independence camp in Hong Kong is not big compared with those in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Nonetheless, he said, the Chinese government cannot tolerate pro-independence forces in Hong Kong.

Lau Siu-kai
Lau Siu-kai. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The professor predicted that Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung Chung-hang are very likely going to be disqualified as lawmakers. But the interpretation does not only target the pair; it also aims at provide legal guidance for other oath-taking events, he said.

He cannot rule out the possibility of people filing judicial reviews against lawmakers such as Lau Siu-lai, one of the self-determination advocates in the legislature.

Any lawmakers who advocate independence or challenge China’s sovereignty will be disqualified, as they will have broken the oath, Lau Siu-kai said. He added that it would depend on how the authorities handled Monday’s interpretation by the NPCSC.


IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok criticised Li’s comment for adding words to the interpretation, which did not mention “self-determination.”

“What do you mean by ‘essentially’? You think you are the law, but let us tell you: you have not solved the problem, but have only made it bigger,” Mok said.

Activist Joshua Wong of the Demosistō party said: “Democratic self-determination means allowing Hongkongers to decide the future of Hong Kong by democratic means. Today, the Chinese Communist Party characterised it as independence.”

Joshua wong
Joshua Wong. Photo: Joshua Wong, via Facebook.

“It looks like the day when Beijing equates anti-Article-23 [security law] and ‘end one-party rule’ with fueling pro-independence forces is not far away,” Wong said.

Wong’s former colleague Tommy Cheung, one of the student leaders behind the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests, said: “If self-determination is independence, then everything is the same as Hong Kong independence.”

A protest against Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law was held on Sunday. It ended with clashes outside the China Liaison Office, Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong.

Li condemned pro-independence advocates for inciting the clashes and preventing the Legislative Council from functioning.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.