HONG KONG – Pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong began resigning Thursday to protest the expulsion of four other lawmakers, heightening a conflict with Beijing over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s future.
Pro-democracy activists say China’s ruling Communist Party, which has tightened control in Hong Kong in response to demands for more democracy, is destroying the civil liberties and rights that were promised the territory when Britain returned it to China in 1997.
The 15 remaining lawmakers in the pro-democracy bloc said Wednesday they will resign en masse after China’s central government passed a resolution this week that led to the four lawmakers’ disqualification.
The four had urged foreign governments to sanction China and Hong Kong over Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in the territory. The Communist Party accused them of violating their oaths of office.
Most of the 15 lawmakers did not attend a regular session of the legislature on Thursday, and some later handed in resignation letters at the Legislative Council’s secretariat.
China sharply criticized the move. Its Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office called the mass resignation “an open challenge” to the authority of the central government and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.
“If these lawmakers hope to use their resignation to provoke opposition and beg for foreign interference, they have miscalculated,” it said in a statement.
Wu Chi-wai, the head of the pro-democracy bloc, said the Chinese and Hong Kong governments were trying to take away the separation of powers in the city, since the ousting of the four lawmakers bypassed the courts.