The local government revised a statement on Saturday night, after an earlier version contradicted Beijing’s stance on whether Article 22 of the Basic Law was applicable to China’s office in Hong Kong.
The original statement released at 9.05 pm on Saturday said the liaison office was set up in Hong Kong by the Central Government under Basic Law Article 22, and its personnel should abide by the laws of Hong Kong in accordance with the article which bars Beijing’s departments from interfering in the city’s affairs.
But the Hong Kong government issued a revision a few hours later, stating that the liaison office in Sai Wan is authorised by Beijing to have a “special responsibility” in handling issues in Hong Kong, while excluding any mention of Article 22.
It then issued another statement during the early hours of Sunday, saying that the liaison office does not count as an office set up by Beijing in Hong Kong as stated in Article 22 of the city’s mini-constitution.
However, according to a Legislative Council document submitted by the Constitutional Affairs Bureau in 2007, the government had listed the liaison office as one of the offices set up in Hong Kong by the Central People’s Government (CPG) under Article 22 of the Basic Law.
The document also mentioned a change in the official title of the liaison office from “Xinhua News Agency (Hong Kong Branch)” – with effect from January 18 in 2000 – to “reflect properly the responsibilities authorised by the CPG for the office to undertake in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong government’s responses on Saturday came a day after the liaison office said that – together with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – their local agencies are not restricted by Basic Law Article 22.
A spokesperson of the liaison office said the offices have the power to represent the central authorities to supervise on issues concerning the relationship between the Beijing and Hong Kong, the accurate implementation of the Basic Law and proper operation of the political system, a point echoed by the Hong Kong government in its statements.
“There is no doubt in the legitimacy of the two offices to voice opinions on the Legislative Council’s failure to function properly,” the liaison office’s spokesperson said. “Criticism of the agencies with Article 22 is not only an intentional distortion of the Basic Law, it is also deliberately misleading of public opinion.”
On Tuesday, pan-democrats in Hong Kong slammed the Beijing offices as not respecting Article 22, after the liaison office and the HKMAO accused opposition lawmakers of using “malicious filibustering” to paralyse the legislature. The agencies warned that legislators could be in violation of their oaths and guilty of misconduct in public office.
Hong Kong government officials have backed Beijing’s comments on several occasions, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam stating on Wednesday that Beijing was within its legitimate interests to express concern over “unacceptable” legislative disruptions.