Former justice secretary Wong Yan-lung has said the last interpretation of Hong Kong’s de facto constitution by Beijing was “strongly political.”

Last year, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress made an interpretation of the Basic Law’s Article 104 after the oath-taking controversy at the Legislative Council. The interpretation, the fifth since the Handover, decreed that lawmakers must take oaths of office solemnly and accurately. Six lawmakers were disqualified after the ruling.

Wong, the legal chief of the Donald Tsang administration, made his rare remarks at a talk on Thursday, saying that the interpretation was “rather unfortunate.”

Wong Yan-lung
Wong Yan-lung (left). Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“It was an incident that smelt strongly political,” he said. “It touched the deepest nerve [of the central government].”

Localist lawmakers Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching at the time used “Chee-na” – seen by many as a derogatory term for China – in their oaths.

“The interpretation was triggered by the political statements of some individuals – I don’t think it was worth [the interpretation],” Wong said, without naming them.

Leung and Yau failed in their final appeal application in August.

“The three levels of courts all said that – according to local oath-taking laws – the courts would rule that they manifestly refused and wilfully omitted to take the LegCo oath, and would be automatically disqualified,” Wong said. “Even without the interpretation, the result would still be the same.”

baggio leung yau wai-ching
Baggio Leung (L) and Yau Wai-ching (R) outside the Court of Final Appeal on Friday. Photo: In-Media.

Wong said that, in his understanding, the central government did not wish to step into Hong Kong affairs, and Hong Kong people should not create incidents to test the central government’s bottom line.

“The stronger the provocation, the stronger the response,” he said.

He said the Standing Committee has the power to interpret the Basic Law: “But at the same time, undoubtedly, power should only be used in extreme restraint and only when it is necessary.”

He added that the public should not target Hong Kong’s judges.

“Today, we are still above China in terms of our legal infrastructure, in terms of our legal system, our dispute resolution, our independent judiciary. That’s why I emphasise, do not, do not, shake our own foundation by attacking our own judiciary. If anything, we have to do more to protect our judiciary, to protect our system, to safeguard our forte,” he said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.