Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Congressional-Executive Commission on China Chairs Denounce Chinese Government’s Unprecedented Intervention in Hong Kong’s Legal System

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 "with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and the Congress. The Commission consists of nine Senators, nine Members of the House of Representatives, and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President." (CECC About). The CECC FAQs provide useful information about the CECC. See CECC Frequently Asked Questions. They have developed positions on a number of issues: Access to Justice; Civil Society;Commercial Rule of Law; Criminal Justice; Developments in Hong Kong and Macau ; The Environment ; Ethnic Minority Rights;Freedom of Expression; Freedom of Religion ; Freedom of Residence and Movement ; Human Trafficking ; Institutions of Democratic Governance ; North Korean Refugees in China; Population Planning ; Public Health ; Status of Women ; Tibet ; Worker Rights ; and Xinjiang.

CECC tends to serve as an excellent barometer of the thinking of political and academic elites in the United States about issues touching on China and the official American line developed in connection with those issues. As such it is an important source of information about the way official and academic sectors think about China. And given the recent victory of Mr. Trump, the Republican Party nominee, in the election for President of the UNited States, this position of CECC might be worth careful study for those with an interest in the future of US-China relations.

The issue touches on the interpretation of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and involves the interplay of the authority (and the hierarchy of authority) in that respect between the judiciary of Hong Kong under the Basic Law and of the instrumentalities of the People's Republic of China over the Basic Law. As recently reported in the South China Morning Post:
China’s top legislative body yesterday voted unanimously to endorse an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law rule on oath-taking that will effectively disqualify two localist lawmakers and block advocates of Hong Kong independence from contesting future Legislative Council elections.

The ruling by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which requires public officials to take their oaths “sincerely” and “solemnly” or face disqualification, paves the way for by-elections to fill the seats to be vacated by Youngspiration duo Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.
The issue is ongoing in Hong Kong and China. It's potentially deep impact on the structures and practice of constitutionalism, and constitutional authority, in theory and practice are now sharply drawn. We will consider this further in future posts (e.g., here).

Chairs Denounce Chinese Government’s Unprecedented Intervention in Hong Kong’s Legal System
For Immediate Release

November 9, 2016

(Washington, DC)—The chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Representative Christopher H. Smith, chair, and Senator Marco Rubio, cochair, issued the following statements following the Chinese government’s unprecedented decision to intervene in an active court case involving two young Hong Kong politicians—Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching—elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in September on platforms calling for democratic self-determination for Hong Kong. Last month at their swearing-in, they altered the traditional oath of office and since then have been prevented from retaking the oath. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Monday issued an interpretation, in the absence of any request to do so by the Hong Kong government or courts, that effectively bans Leung and Yau from office. The Chairs expressed deep concern about the implications of the ruling by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which represents an unprecedented meddling in Hong Kong’s legal system.

“Political confidence and even the rule of law are undermined by the latest and unprecedented overreaction from Beijing,” said Representative Smith. “The NPC's intervention will likely solidify the opinion of those who see a fundamental difference between Hong Kong and a China run by the Communist Party. It is in everyone’s interests that Hong Kong remains a free and prosperous bridge between China and the West, but if all Hong Kong is going to have is some sort of sham autonomy, then U.S. policy needs to be re-evaluated. The United States must provide unwavering support for Hong Kong's freedoms, the rule of law, and the release of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai.”

“Beijing's recent actions in Hong Kong are unprecedented, and should send chills down the spines of people who care about promoting democratic governance in Hong Kong by preserving its independent legal system,” said Senator Rubio. “In blocking two democratically elected politicians from taking office, China has sent the undeniable signal that Hong Kong’s cherished ‘high degree of autonomy’ has limits, and those limits are whatever the Communist Party in China decides. China’s recent actions are not only troubling for the people of Hong Kong who yearn for greater electoral representation, democratic reform, protection of human rights and a legal system that functions independent of mainland interference, but also for international businesses and investors who have long viewed Hong Kong as a desirable center for trade and finance. Beijing’s actions are outrageous and have rightly prompted many Hong Kong residents, including thousands of lawyers, law students, and activists to take to the streets in peaceful protest recognizing the gravity of what is at stake. The United States should stand firmly with their right to express themselves in this manner and oppose any efforts by the Chinese government to crush or suppress dissent.”

For more information on recent developments in Hong Kong, please see the CECC’s recently released 2016 Annual Report.

The CECC will be hosting a “Conversation with Joshua Wong about Hong Kong’s Democratic Future” on Wednesday, November 16, from 2-3 pm in the Capitol Visitor’s Center SVC-215. Student activist Joshua Wong, who gained international notoriety during the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong, is at the forefront of a movement seeking greater democracy and self-determination in deciding Hong Kong’s future and an end to the Chinese government’s erosion of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy.” To RSVP or for further information, please contact Scott Flipse, the CECC’s Director of Policy and Media Relations at or 202-226-3777.

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