21 October 2016
Last year's Occupy protests marked the political enlightenment of Hong Kong youngsters. Photo: Bloomberg
Last year's Occupy protests marked the political enlightenment of Hong Kong youngsters. Photo: Bloomberg

Forget universal suffrage, this is what young people want

In its brief history, Hong Kong has had two profound changes to its identity.

The first one was when it was acquired by the British in 1841, and the second when it was returned to Chinese sovereignty 18 years ago.

A third one, although still 32 years away, is looming large.

Deng Xiaoping once tried to calm Hong Kong people’s fears by saying that the change of suzerainty is just about changing the flag and the top leader.

That was the time when the nerve-wracking Sino-British negotiations were taking place, and Hong Kong’s future was being decided without any representative from the city participating in the talks.

Now we know that promises are meant to be broken, especially those coming from communist cadres who can afford to say one thing and do another.

But Hong Kong’s young generation, many of whom are younger than the SAR government, won’t allow their city to be fooled again.

So, what do they want now? Genuine universal suffrage in future elections like 2022? No, thank you.

Most of the youth have given up on that dream, especially after Beijing showed to all and sundry that it had no intention of giving that to the Hong Kong people.

This does not mean that they have pulled back.

Instead, a growing number of young people are now focusing on things that transcend the discussion about how future chief executives should be selected.

They have set their eyes on 2047 when the Basic Law, which supposedly ensures a high degree of autonomy for the territory, ends.

They want a second round of talks on Hong Kong’s future.

In a recent op-ed, Scholarism founder Joshua Wong Chi-fung said “sustainable autonomy” and “Hong Kong people deciding their own future” are what the youth are now aiming for.

The illusion of democratic reunification with China, once a source of spiritual sustenance for many senior democrats, has been shattered for good, he said.

Like it or not, Hong Kong will have to face its destiny in or around 2030 as it starts counting down to the expiry of “one country, two systems”.

Thus, as Wong suggests, the entire pan-democratic bloc must draw up a common roadmap for the following 15 years starting from 2015.

Specifically, he wants a revision of the Basic Law to eliminate all pitfalls and ambiguities and ultimately a territorial-wide referendum to determine the way forward.

To work towards that end, Wong’s recommendation is that rounds of referendum campaigns on issues and bills of common interest should be held alongside the official, legally-binding voting by Legislative Council members to invite public engagement and awaken their consciousness.

Many of our local pundits tend to dismiss the ideas proffered by young activists like the 18-year-old Wong, thinking that such views have yet to flow into the mainstream of political discourse. 

Even after last year’s Occupy protests, not a few senior politicians still regard Hong Kong youth as politically apathetic and oblivious to such issues as the shape of things after 2047.

Some even attribute their participation in pro-democracy rallies to the spirit of rebellion that is common in young people. As Executive Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung puts it, “they like to be heroes in front of their girlfriends”.

Apparently our youngsters and those in high places are not on the same page. This is exactly what has been alienating the younger generation from the authorities.

The fact is that even some long-time pro-China student associations are having second thoughts about nationalism. One example is the 40-year-old China Studies Society (國是學會) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

An executive committee member of the society, which once advocated for the use of simplified Chinese and democratic reunification with the mainland, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that their ideals, as opposed to that of society founders back in the 1970s, are that the territory should be shielded from China.

Hong Kong independence is no longer a taboo but an option that must be discussed, he said, although he admitted that the cards are stacked against such a proposition.

“But at least you have to propose solutions and start the discussion now,” he said.

“Had Beijing honored its pledges in the first place, Hong Kong would have been willing to be part of the nation. As patriots back then, we chose to believe that except for defense and diplomacy, Hong Kong could go its own way.

“But what we see today is that cadres at the Liaison Office are the people who are running the city…”

The message from our youngsters is clear: the future of Hong Kong lies in their hands and they are not going to dodge the responsibility.

They won’t simply kick the can down the road and leave it for future generations to resolve. They are, after all, the future generation.

As such, the issue about the chief executive election is insignificant to them.

Has their message once again fallen on deaf ears? If not, how will Beijing and its local stooges respond?

No one has a crystal ball on that, but one thing for sure is that these teenagers and twentysomethings will still be around in 2047.

They will be the leading lights in politics in the next three decades.

Many of them are now harboring deep rancor as they feel betrayed by their previous representatives.

They are not going to let that happen again. They will do their best to ensure a good future for themselves and their children.

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Hong Kong youngsters, many of whom were not around during the handover, harbor deep rancor as they feel betrayed by their previous representatives. Photo: Bloomberg

Joshua Wong believes that the illusion of democratic reunification with China has been shattered. Photo: Bloomberg

EJ Insight writer

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