The mainland official who leads the expert group that advises China’s top legislative body on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution was on Tuesday promoted to chair a newly renamed central committee which oversees national legal and constitutional issues.
Li Fei, chairman of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, was promoted to succeed Qiao Xiaoyang as the chief of the Law and Constitution Committee during the NPC’s plenary meeting on Tuesday morning. Some 2,937 votes were cast in favour of the move and just 15 against.
The new group, which falls under the purview of the NPC, the country’s national legislature, was originally called the Law Committee. It has been renamed as the Constitution and Law Committee in what was seen as a move to highlight the importance of recent constitutional amendments. Li is currently the vice-chairman of the Law Committee.
The constitution was amended with almost unanimous support by the NPC on Sunday, clearing the way for Xi Jinping to remain president beyond the end of his original two terms in 2023.
The rebranding of the Law Committee was one of the amendments also passed.
“As chairman of the Basic Law Committee, Li has done a very good job,” Qiao said, adding that he believed Li would prove capable in the new post with his 30 years of legal experience.
Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, said Li would find it relatively easy to adapt to the new role with his rich experience.
Ma Fung-kwok, an NPC deputy and convenor of Hong Kong’s delegation to the body, said the name change was a way to emphasise the increasing workload of the NPC Standing Committee and other relevant bodies in scrutinising laws enacted at city level.
He said more than 200 mainland cities, as well as Hong Kong, were able to enact their own laws and the standing committee had the authority to reject laws it deemed unconstitutional.
According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, laws enacted by the city’s Legislative Council must be sent for review to the standing committee, which could return the laws in question for further amendments.
The standing committee has not returned any laws to Legco since the handover of the city to Beijing in 1997. Yet, there are growing concerns in Hong Kong’s legal sector that Beijing may use the scrutiny to curb the power of Legco.
Tam Yiu-chung, a local NPC deputy and a former lawmaker, said he did not view the change as targeting Hong Kong.
“The system has always been there. It is very clear,” Tam said, adding that the standing committee’s scrutiny was only limited to local legislation – not speech by lawmakers.