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AP Explains: Beijing's intervention in Hong Kong legislature

Associated Press Associated Press 7/11/2016
Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, speaks during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. China's top legislature effectively barred two democratically elected separatist lawmakers from taking office in Hong Kong with a ruling Monday on the city's constitution, an intervention into a local political dispute that's likely to spark further turmoil in the southern Chinese city. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) © The Associated Press Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, speaks during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. China's top legislature effectively barred two democratically elected separatist lawmakers from taking office in Hong Kong with a ruling Monday on the city's constitution, an intervention into a local political dispute that's likely to spark further turmoil in the southern Chinese city. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

HONG KONG — The Chinese legislature's decision to intervene in the exclusion of two Hong Kong legislators has underscored Beijing's determination to ensure its control over the semi-autonomous region's political life. Here is a look at recent events and possible effects that could shape the territory's relationship with the mainland and its standing as an international finance center long known for stability and calm.

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MONDAY'S DECISION TO BAR TWO LEGISLATORS

China's legislature, the National People's Congress, issued an interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution, stating that two legislators could not take their seats after refusing to make the official oath of office. According to Beijing-backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, it was only the fifth time that China's central government has issued such a ruling since the former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The NPC Standing Committee would not have taken such a step "if there was no need for it," Leung said Monday following the announcement. Beijing's ruling circumvents a legal challenge filed by the Hong Kong government, which continues despite being rendered essentially moot.

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BY-ELECTION TO BE HELD IF LAWMAKERS CAN'T TAKE THEIR SEATS

A by-election will be held to fill the seats of the two members of the Youthspiration party, Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, who altered their oaths to insert a derogatory Japanese expression for China. However, the NPC made no ruling on whether the two could run again for their original seats, and if they were to do so and be successful, "we could be back where we're at," said Simon Young, an associate dean at Hong Kong University's law school. In such a case, Young said, they would likely be wiser in reading their oaths correctly and assuming their positions.

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REASONS BEHIND CHINA'S DECISION TO INTERVENE

China has grown increasingly concerned with an anti-Beijing trend among young Hong Kongers that manifested itself most dramatically in the 2014 Occupy Central protest movement. That action shut down parts of the city for weeks as part of a campaign to demand open nominations for the 2017 election of Hong Kong's chief executive by a small panel of mostly pro-Beijing elites, and inspired a new wave of political awareness among the young. As that movement was unfolding, Chinese President Xi Jinping was presiding over a wide-ranging crackdown on activists and legal professionals on the mainland. With the two legislators' case already in front of a Hong Kong court, the NPC likely ruled out of "impatience and fear that the court might decide otherwise," Young said.

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REASONS FOR HONG KONG'S YOUTHFUL OPPOSITION MOVEMENT

Young Hong Kong residents, some of whom weren't even born when the territory was still a British colony, see little to identify with in the Communist Party and want a democratic process that they can feel part of. At the same time, they are under growing economic pressure and face reduced job opportunities, which they blame in part on heightened competition from the Chinese economic juggernaut. The abduction to the mainland of Hong Kong booksellers who published tomes on sensitive political topics has also raised concerns about new restrictions on freedom of speech and the rise of self-censorship.

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DIVISIONS LIKELY TO CONTINUE IN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL

Hong Kong faces a crucial test with next year's chief executive selection process, overseen by Beijing at every level. Although Leung Chun-ying is considered a safe bet for another term, he faces increasing competition from within the pro-Beijing camp — including from other senior government officials. Meanwhile, the Legislative Council remains divided between the opposition which enjoys support from younger voters, and the pro-Beijing establishment rooted in the business community. In the near-term, protests in the chamber are expected to continue.

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