One of the four Hong Kong lawmakers removed from office this week by the Chinese government is Edmonton-born Dennis Kwok, who relinquished his Canadian citizenship to run for office in the former British colony eight years ago.
The decree from Beijing brought a swift end to Mr. Kwok’s stint as an elected official during the rockiest period of Hong Kong’s history since Britain handed the 1,100 square kilometre territory over to China in 1997. He was one of four legislators deemed disloyal by authorities.
In an interview, Mr. Kwok, 42, described the ouster of legislators by Beijing as a “sad day for Hong Kong and for people who care about liberal democratic values around the world.”
Mr. Kwok said word of his removal came down while he was on the floor of the legislature Wednesday. “When they disqualified me, I was working on a bill in the Legislative Council Chamber,” he recalled.
On Thursday, the Canadian government announced measures – primarily aimed at young Hong Kongers – to open the door for more economic immigrants from the Asian financial hub.
But Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Canada’s response to the Hong Kong crisis needs to include an expedited path for people such as Mr. Kwok – now banned from public office there – to come to Canada too. This would enable the legislator to begin the process of regaining his Canadian citizenship.
Mr. Kwok said he’s honoured that people might recommend this, but said he feels he cannot leave Hong Kong just yet.
“I cannot selfishly think about myself at this juncture," he said.
“I gave up Canadian citizenship when I entered public office because I felt I should be in the same boat as the Hong Kong people I serve,” he said, saying that he felt it would be wrong to have another passport while he was “making important decisions that affect the whole of Hong Kong.”
He’s not sure what he will do next. He was a lawyer before he entered politics and plans to keep practising.
“I hope I would be able to contribute to the rule of law, democracy and human rights ... in a different capacity going forward.”
The other legislators removed from office by Beijing this week include Alvin Yeung, who obtained Canadian citizenship in the 1990s and attended high school and university in Canada before returning to Hong Kong to enter public life. He also gave up his Canadian citizenship before becoming a lawmaker in the former British colony. Reached this week, Mr. Yeung also said he’s not planning to try to regain it.
Both Mr. Kwok and Mr. Yeung are considered moderates in Hong Kong. Neither has advocated for independence.
This past April, however, the Chinese government offices responsible for overseeing Hong Kong lashed out at Mr. Kwok, accusing him of stalling tactics to hold up government business and singled out his opposition to a new Beijing law that criminalized mockery of China’s national anthem.
“If observing due process and fighting for democracy and human rights would lead to the consequences of being disqualified, it would be my honour,” Mr. Kwok told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week after his ouster, the South China Morning Post reported.
At the end of June, Beijing imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong, ostensibly to target secession, subversion and terrorism, but with vaguely defined offences that critics say effectively criminalize dissent and opposition.
The four lawmakers targeted this week were already barred from running again for office but were hoping they could keep their seat until the next election, which was postponed because of COVID-19.
In Mr. Yeung’s case, authorities cited contact with U.S. lawmakers who were behind an American bill to penalize Hong Kong for human-rights abuses committed during a year of democracy protests – even though this contact occurred before the passage of the new national-security law and despite the fact that both men said they would not urge foreign governments to enact sanctions.
This week’s political developments in Hong Kong also prompted the entire remaining pro-democracy wing of the legislature – 15 legislators – to resign in solidarity with their ousted colleagues. This eliminates one of the last vestiges of official political opposition in Hong Kong.
British cabinet ministers on Thursday said they believe China has violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the 1984 handover treaty it signed with Britain, when it imposed new rules to disqualify elected legislators in the former British colony. They cautioned that London would consider sanctions as part of its response. In the treaty Beijing pledged to let Hong Kong retain autonomy over its affairs, and Western-style civil liberties, for 50 years.
Steve Tsang, a Hong Kong-born political scientist at the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, said he thinks Hong Kongers upset about what’s happening should remain in the city rather than flee, to fight for China to honour its treaty pledge.
“Hong Kong is worth fighting for and it means standing the ground in Hong Kong for as long as possible,” Prof. Tsang said. “We all need to insist on the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration being upheld.”
With a report from Reuters
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