Beijing plans to intervene in a Hong Kong political dispute over two young, newly elected separatist lawmakers in a rare move that is stoking fears the Chinese-ruled city's considerable autonomy and independent judiciary are under threat.
Hong Kong's government said on Friday that it was informed by China's central government that members of the country's top legislative panel, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, will discuss interpreting an article in Hong Kong's constitution covering oaths taken by lawmakers.
The move follows a provocative display of anti-China sentiment by the two lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, at their swearing-in ceremony last month.
Beijing's heavy-handed response could lead to the democratically elected Leung and Yau being disqualified from taking office.
Such an outcome would be favorable to China's Communist leaders, who are alarmed by the former British colony's burgeoning independence movement, but is also likely to plunge their troubled relationship into fresh turmoil.
Beijing has stepped in with its interpretation of the Basic Law the city's constitution on only four occasions, most recently in 2005.
The National People's Congress did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said senior lawmakers Friday heard a report on a draft “explanation” of the article on oath-taking and indicated it would be tabled for review during the current session that ends Monday.
Hong Kong's leader Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters he wouldn't comment until Beijing issued its ruling.
Leung and Yau of the radical Youngspiration party altered their oaths to insert a disparaging Japanese term for China.
Displaying a flag reading “Hong Kong is not China,” they vowed to defend the “Hong Kong nation.” Leung crossed his fingers while Yau used the F-word in her pledge.
Their oaths were ruled invalid but attempts at a do-over have resulted in mayhem in the legislature's weekly sessions, as the duo and fellow pro-democracy lawmakers sparred verbally with pro-Beijing rivals and brawled with security guards trying to keep them out of the chamber.