HONG KONG (Reuters) – A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday that authorities are working on reforms related to semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, including its judicial system.
Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told a legal summit in the global financial hub that moves to “perfect” the legal system in Hong Kong would not undermine judicial independence.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” agreement that guaranteed freedoms unavailable in mainland China and an independent judiciary.
But after prolonged anti-government and anti-China protests last year, Beijing introduced a sweeping national security law on June 30 that critics say aims to quash dissent. Supporters say it restores stability in China’s most restive city.
“We need to see the Basic Law as something that is alive so we can interpret the Basic Law whenever necessary,” said Zhang, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, adding that authorities are looking to push through more “Basic Law-related work”.
Zhang said that the work was related to “oath optimisation” and “qualification screening” for civil servants, national education, and judicial reform. He did not elaborate.
Under the new security law, civil servants are required to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and the Basic Law.
Zhang said the moves were aimed to correct “wrongful activities” and cover loopholes.
“Right now is time to sort out what is true and what is false,” Zhang said, stating that people who do not recognise the “motherland” or threaten the country’s national security, do not fall in line with the Basic Law.
The independence of Hong Kong’s judicial system is seen as crucial for the city to thrive as a finance hub acting as an interface between mainland China’s closed capital system and the rest of the world.
Zhang’s comments come after Beijing passed a resolution last week to empower Hong Kong authorities to disqualify lawmakers deemed a threat to national security without having to go through courts.
Hong Kong then immediately expelled four legislators, prompting opposition pro-democracy lawmakers to resign en masse in protest.
“Only those who are patriotic should be in place, otherwise they should be removed from the system,” Zhang said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry)