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Hong Kong’s relative political freedom under threat

The mainland Chinese government in Beijing has intervened more openly than ever before in the governance of Hong Kong. The Chinese National People's Congress – Beijing's parliament – pronounced on Monday that all members of Hong Kong's legislative council must "swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administration Region of the People's Republic of China," and that none of them could even advocate independence for Hong Kong – something that could hardly be imagined in, say, Canada.

This was a remarkably heavy-handed response to two young politicians who recently won election to the island's legislative council. When taking an oath before occupying their seats, Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yao Wai-ching made satirical references to China and swore allegiance to "the Hong Kong nation."

So far, the two are being paid their salaries and working in their offices, but a pro-Beijing group in Hong Kong says they have "darkness and dirt in their hearts." The whole matter is before the Hong Kong courts.

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It's not a good sign for Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" principle. In 1997, after many years, Britain returned Hong Kong to China. The agreement said the island would have a distinct system, with the rule of law and liberal commerce. But the electoral system is only partly democratic, because of so-called "functional" constituencies. Now, there is further cause to worry about Hong Kong's relative political freedom. Two other so-called "localist" legislators are being looked at askance by the authorities, one for allegedly raising eyebrows at the swearing-in, another for pausing between words. Such pettiness has more than a tinge of totalitarianism.

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