HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong can handle an unprecedented city government legal attempt to bar two newly elected legislators promoting independence from China, a government lawyer said on Thursday, amid growing speculation Beijing would intervene in the case.
The case of the pro-independence politicians who won seats in the city legislature in a September election has highlighted worries about Beijing’s intervention in the former British colony despite promises of autonomy.
The two politicians - Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30 - displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner and used a derogatory word for China during a swearing in ceremony as Legislative Council members last month.
They were not sworn in and the city’s chief executive filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against them getting another chance.
Hong Kong’s High Court struck down that request but approved a judicial review hearing over the pair’s membership of the legislature, which began on Thursday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying signaled on Tuesday that Beijing might use a rarely invoked power to interpret the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, in the case.
But government lawyer Benjamin Yu told the court Hong Kong could handle it.
“It is the stance of the government … that the issue in question can and should be resolved within the Hong Kong SAR judicial system,” Yu said, referring to Hong Kong by its official designation as a special administrative region of China.
Media has reported the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress, or parliament, would take up the issue when it meets in Beijing over coming days.
The Standing Committee has interpreted the Basic Law four times since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including once when neither the city government nor its courts requested it.
Yu said authorities had sought confirmation from Beijing on whether an interpretation might happen, but they had not got a reply.
“The Hong Kong SAR government has not requested the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to exercise its power of interpretation.”
Any intervention by Beijing in the case would increase concern about the financial hub’s autonomy and vaunted legal system, legal officials say privately.
The long-taboo issue of Hong Kong’s independence began gaining momentum after Beijing refused to give any concessions during street protests in 2014 for full democracy.
Yu said the two politicians used the swearing in ceremony “to advocate for Hong Kong independence” and did not comply with certain articles in the mini constitution.
“If you do not believe Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, you have no business in the Legislative Council,” Yu said.
The Basic law says Hong Kong is an “inalienable part” of China.
Reporting By Venus Wu; editing by Greg Torode, Robert Birsel