Hong Kong’s youth don’t want to be told what to do. Push them, and they will push back. They resent it when Beijing asks them to be loyal to the Communist Party. They start entertaining thoughts of independence.
A great proportion of the hundreds of thousands who joined Tuesday’s pro-democracy march were young people, and many of them stayed behind in Central until police decided to clear the streets.
This year’s July 1 protest was also marked by the rise of several groups advocating for Hong Kong’s independence. These are tiny, loose groups that lie in the fringes of the opposition, but their mere presence along the route of the massive demonstration from Causeway Bay to Central marks a departure from the usual demand for greater autonomy. They are planting the seeds that may one day grow if the general demand of the people for political reforms falls on deaf ears.
There’s a group called Hong Kong Independence Party, which is calling for an anti-Communist Chinese rule in Hong Kong. Its leaders say the city’s current situation is no different from the time when it was a British colony — different master, same chain. The city will die unless it fights for independence, they say.
Another group called Hong Kong Autonomy was seen distributing small Hong Kong colonial flags to marchers. They are calling for true autonomy beyond the constitutional framework of the Basic Law. The group also publishes a newsletter called Dragon Lion Post, which contains their many advocacies, including a ban on mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, a limit to the number of mainland visitors to the city, and a limit to social welfare benefits for new immigrants from China.
The sight of young protesters waving the city’s colonial flag in this year’s march was said to have brought more sadness than anger to senior officials in Beijing, who find it hard to understand why these youngsters would prefer returning to colonial rule rather than being Chinese citizens.
But these youngsters believe that their demands are no different from those sought by the rest of the Hong Kong population, which is a free, fair and open society under the rule of law. That’s what the British rule brought to the city, they say, and it is this legacy that laid the foundation for Hong Kong to become a prosperous, world-class metropolis.
It’s also what distinguishes Hong Kong from other Chinese cities. But 17 years after the British left, Hong Kong is losing its uniqueness and becoming just another mainland region following directions from Beijing.
Recent developments, such as the release of the State Council white paper stressing that the city’s autonomy comes from the central government, are nurturing the fear that China wants full control of Hong Kong.
At the moment, calls for Hong Kong’s independence are isolated yearnings of disenchanted youths. They are likely to be nipped in the bud before they grow any stronger. But it would do well for Beijing to understand why such mentality is finding space in Hong Kong, and thus avoid watering the ground that would allow such dangerous ideas to grow.
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