Hong Kong Government Disqualifies Four Legislative Council Members


Hong Kong Government Disqualifies Four
Legislative Council Members

November 16, 2020
The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) disqualified four elected
of the city’s Legislative Council (Legco) on November 11, 2020, following a decision by
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC)
that sets new qualifications to be a
Legco member. The following day, 15 pro-democracy Legco members submitted their resignations in
support of the four disqualified members and in opposition to the actions of the NPCSC and the HKSAR
government. As a result, Legco, which is supposed to have 70 members, now consists of 42 “pro-
establishment” coalition members who generally support the HKSAR government, and 2 other
unaffiliated members.
Critics of the disqualifications see the actions of the NPCSC and the HKSAR government as denying the
disqualified members their right to due process;
undermining Hong Kong separation of powers between
the executive, judicial, and legislative branches; violating China’s obligation to provide the HKSAR a
high degree of autonomy;
and effectively ending China’s “one country, two systems” policy. The
governments of the PRC and HKSAR assert that the NPCSC decision and the HKSAR government’s
disqualifications were made in accordance with the PRC’s constitution and law, including the Basic Law
of the HKSAR
(Basic Law).
On November 12, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo characterized the disqualifications as a
continuation of the PRC’s “onslaught against Hong Kong’s freedoms and liberties.” He declared that the
NPCSC’s decision “tramples on the rights of the people of Hong Kong to choose their elected
representatives as guaranteed by the Basic Law and further exposes Beijing’s blatant disregard for its
international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty.” Secretary
Pompeo stated that the U.S. government “will hold accountable the people responsible for these actions
and policies that erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.”
The disqualification of the four Legco members—Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, Kwok Ka-ki, Kenneth Leung
Kai-cheong, and Alvin Yeung Kgok-kiu—is the culmination of a series of events over the last two years
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that pitted Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement against the PRC and HKSAR governments. In 2019,
Hong Kong was riven by protests over the HKSAR government’s attempt to pass extradition legislation
and its failure to implement democratic reforms (see CRS In Focus IF11295, Hong Kong’s Protests of
. The protests contributed to the NPCSC’s decision on June 20, 2020, to approve a national security
law for Hong Kong that criminalized acts of sedition, secession, organization and perpetration of terrorist
activities, and “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”
(see CRS Report R46473, China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong: Issues for Congress).
Hong Kong scheduled Legco elections for September 6, 2020. On July 30, HKSAR election officials
disqualified 12 candidates,
including 4 Legco members up for re-election—the two Kwoks, Leung, and
Yeung. The following day, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that Legco
elections would be postponed
until September 5, 2021, citing the public health risk of holding the
elections during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
On August 11, 2020, the NPCSC approved the extension of the current Legco’s term in office for a year,
as proposed by Chief Executive Lam, but made no determination on the status of the four Legco members
disqualified from running in the postponed September election. The four Legco members were initially
allowed to remain in office, but Chief Executive Lam asked the NPCSC to make a determination
regarding their eligibility in light of their disqualification as candidates.
On November 11, 2020, the NPCSC decided that Legco members must “uphold the Basic Law” and
cannot support Hong Kong independence, solicit intervention by foreign or external forces in the
HKSAR’s affairs, or carry out “other activities endangering national security.” According to the HKSAR
government, any current Legco member or any future Legco candidate or member who does not meet
these conditions is to be immediately disqualified. As a result, the HKSAR government disqualified the
four Legco members.
U.S. Sanctions on China and Hong Kong
Congress has authorized and the Trump Administration has imposed a series of sanctions on China and
Hong Kong in response to the perceived erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The 116th Congress passed
the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (P.L. 116-76) in November 2019 and the Hong Kong
Autonomy Act (P.L. 116-149) in July 2020. Both laws authorize the imposition of sanctions on PRC and
HKSAR officials who the President determines are responsible for actions that contravene China’s
obligations under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.
On July 14, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13936 (EO13936), suspending or eliminating
“different and preferential treatment for Hong Kong to the extent permitted by law.…” On August 7,
2020, the Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on 11 PRC and HKSAR officials, including
Chief Executive Lam, citing the authority of EO13936. On October 14, 2020, the State Department
imposed visa restrictions
on the same people designated by the Treasury Department. On November 9,
2020, the State Department and the Treasury Department designated an additional 4 PRC and HKSAR
officials to be subject to restrictions.
Pending Legislation
Additional legislation introduced in the 116th Congress would address erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy
and the rights of its residents, mostly by providing Hong Kong residents with preferential or priority
treatment when requesting asylum or refugee status or applying for immigration to the United States.
These bills include the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act of 2020 (H.R. 8428, S. 4229), the

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Hong Kong Refugee Protection Act (S. 4631), the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act (H.R. 7415, S. 4110), and
the Hong Kong Victims of Communism Support Act (S. 3892).
In addition, the Hong Kong Freedom Act (H.R. 6947) would authorize the President to recognize Hong
Kong as a separate and independent country from China. The Hong Kong Be Water Act (S. 2758) would
direct the President to impose sanctions on, and freeze assets belonging to, individuals and entities
responsible for suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong.

Author Information

Michael F. Martin

Specialist in Asian Affairs

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