Chief Executive Carrie Lam has hit back against allegations that Beijing encroached upon local affairs after two of its offices accused pro-democracy lawmakers of abusing their powers to paralyse legislative proceedings.

In a rare move, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) and Hong Kong Liaison Office issued two statements criticising opposition lawmakers for “malicious filibustering” in an attempt to stall the election of the chairperson of the Legislative Council’s House Committee.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on April 14, 2020. Photo: inmediahk.net.

The offices singled out Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who has presided over the House Committee meeting since last October, of disrupting legislative proceedings and committing misconduct in office by delaying reviews of bills concerning public livelihood.

The HKMAO also slammed legislators as resorting to “scorched-earth politics” during a global health crisis. First detected in Hubei province, China, Covid-19 has infected nearly two million people and led to more than 126,500 deaths worldwide, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

‘Restraint’

The city’s professional body of barristers, the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA), released a statement on Tuesday citing Article 22 of the Basic Law, which prevents the central authorities from interfering in local affairs. The HKBA said the comments could constitute a breach of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, which grants Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok. File photo: inmediahk.net.

“Any public comment made or statement issued by the HKMAO, China Liaison Office
and any other state authorities in Hong Kong constitutes an exercise of public
authority,” it read. “The HKBA calls on the relevant authorities to exercise restraint in these matters.”

However, at a press conference on Wednesday, Lam refuted the accusation as having no grounds, saying Beijing was within its legitimate interests to express concern over “unacceptable” legislative disruptions.

“As I have explained from the constitutional perspective, one has to fully understand that under ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ through the system and through the Basic Law, the central authorities have given Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, but that doesn’t mean that the central government has given up its power and authority on Hong Kong affairs,” she said.

“If you look from the governance perspective, the Legislative Council has very clear functions under the Basic Law… and many of these functions have not been discharged since October last year because of the way that someone has handled the election of the House Committee Chairman and this has gone on for six months. This is really unacceptable.”

File photo: inmediahk.net

The leader also dismissed claims she had faced pressure from Beijing but was, instead, attempting to exert pressure on the Legislative Council in a “very nice and polite way” through public comments over the last six months.

‘Show me the evidence’

Kwok pushed back in another press conference, saying that given the crisis that arose from the now-withdrawn extradition bill last year, the chief executive should not use the power of Beijing to break political deadlocks in Hong Kong.

“It is not going to work. You need to think of political solutions to break political deadlocks,” he said.

The legislator dismissed accusations of malfeasance as “laughable” and “unbecoming” of Beijing.

“I, as the presiding member, have no power or the right to cut short that duty [to represent constituents] or to eliminate members of the Legislative Council as rubber stamps. It is up to them, each member, to decide how they want to use their time or how they want to use their right to speak in this council, which is a sacred right. And I will allow them to do so, so long as it is within the rules of procedure and the House Rules.”

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.