Lawyers on all sides made their arguments to Hong Kong's High Court on Thursday amid a judicial review amid a political storm over the swearing-in of two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers.
The hearing concluded with no firm date for a ruling, however, sparking fears that Beijing may step in with its own ruling on the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, preempting the court's decision.
Sixtus "Baggio" Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the localist group Youngspiration, who were elected to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in last September's elections, used their swearing-in ceremony last month to pledge to represent the "Hong Kong nation" instead of swearing allegiance to China, inserting swear-words, slurs, and pro-independence slogans into their oaths.
They were unable to take up their seats, as their oaths were deemed invalid by LegCo chairman and pro-Beijing politician Andrew Leung.
Now, the government is seeking to bar them permanently from office, and has refused to rule out requesting intervention from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Some media reports suggest that China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), may issue a decree as soon as Monday.
Government lawyer Benjamin Yu told the High Court that the government has not yet asked Beijing for an interpretation over the row, but has sought clarification over whether it plans to issue one.
He also denied that the administration of chief executive Leung Chun-ying was deliberately seeking the court's authorization for the removal of the two lawmakers from office.
Any discussion of independence for the former British colony is anathema to Beijing, and Leung Chun-ying has said schools in the city should strongly discourage it.
Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching had planned to retake their oaths, but pro-Beijing lawmakers staged a mass walkout last week, rendering the ceremony invalid.
The government is arguing that the pair failed to fulfill Article 104 of the Basic Law, which requires all legislators to pledge allegiance to the SAR and swear to uphold the Basic Law.
The two were also in breach of the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, which disqualifies anyone from public office who "declines or neglects" to take the oath, Yu said.
Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching told reporters on their way into the hearing that they felt confident.
"We have confidence in our judicial system, and we also have confidence in our legal team," Sixtus Leung said.
"If certain kind and caring people decide to damage Hong Kong by issuing an interpretation, then the responsibility for that will be on their kind and caring heads," he added.
Rumors that an interpretation may be imminent have sparked fears that Hong Kong's judicial independence, enshrined in the 1997 handover agreement, could be irreparably damaged.
The pro-democracy Progressive Lawyers Group meanwhile warned that any interventions from Beijing would hurt business interests in Hong Kong, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under Chinese rule.
"This is a situation where perceptions matter as much as the reality, and in circumstances where a pretty explicit threat has been made ... it will always create doubts in the minds of the public, and in the minds of the international community," convenor Kevin Yam told government broadcaster RTHK.
"We have never had the National People's Congress standing committee seeking to interpret the Basic Law in relation to a pending [court] case other than one a few years ago ... outside the remit of Hong Kong's autonomy," Yam said.
"[There is] a concern that whenever those in authority get a public law result that they do not like, or they fear that they might get such a result, they'll basically go off and interpret it in whichever way they like and ... undermine and undercut our courts and our legal system," he said.
"We see such behavior and such actions as unacceptable," he said.
City’s reputation at stake
Yam said the Basic Law doesn't just govern Hong Kong's political life, and could affect the city's reputation as an open and transparent investment environment.
"A lot of Basic Law litigation actually concerns commercial entities, business entities using the Basic Law to protect their commercial rights," Yam said.
"In the future, an interpretation could be used in a much wider range of matters where the government doesn't like the result."
More than a thousand protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday evening to protest any intervention by Beijing.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.