25 October 2016
Hong Kong independence, before regarded as a taboo, is now being increasingly discussed by the younger generation. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong independence, before regarded as a taboo, is now being increasingly discussed by the younger generation. Photo: Reuters

Is HK independence a mainstream thought among the youth?

A growing sense of helplessness is engulfing Hong Kong people as Beijing tightens its grip on the territory.

The “one country, two systems” principle that is supposed to guide cross-border relations has become a cruel farce for many of those who expect central authorities to respect the city’s autonomy and abide by the rule of law.

And yet most Hong Kong people seldom think of independence as an option for the future of the city.

However, the emergence of several localist groups and the election of new sets of officers in the student unions of several local universities have brought the discussion of Hong Kong independence, once considered a taboo, to the fore.

The newly elected president of the University of Hong Kong student union, Althea Suen, recently said in a media interview that she supported Hong Kong independence as as “a viable way” for the city, noting that localism is natural for people who consider Hong Kong as their home.

Chow Shue-fung, the new chairman of the Chinese University of Hong Kong student union, also voiced his unequivocal support for localists and their methods of resistance.

Other officials of the CUHK student council expressed their support for localism.

In fact, their election victories indicate not only that the localist ideology is becoming mainstream but also that it is gaining increasing support, especially among the youth.

The student unions may represent only a small part of the university population, and of the youth in general, but even mainstream student groups are beginning to reassess their views regarding their methods of pursuing the democratic struggle as well as their ideology vis-a-vis a central government that continues to ignore their legitimate demands for genuine universal suffrage and respect for Hong Kong’s core values.

Scholarism, a big student activist group led by Joshua Wong, will form a new political party in April to participate the Legislative Council election in September, with the determination of the future of Hong Kong as its key agenda.

In an initial and rough timetable, Wong said it will take a decade to push for a referendum on whether Hong Kong should stay with China or split from it after 2047.

Certainly, Beijing will never allow any form of referendum for people to express their views on such an explosive political issue.

So far Wong has refused to give details on how his group plans to push for a referendum on the issue.

Localism is a new thinking among Hong Kong youth. It emerged only a few years after after Leung Chun-ying was elected chief executive by a small-circle electoral committee in 2012.

Leung’s blind loyalty to Beijing has resulted in the youth’s realization, and anger, that Hong Kong cannot plan for its own future and needs to abide by Beijing’s plans and policies for the territory.

The decision to build three white elephants — the high-speed rail link, the third runway and the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge — shows that CY Leung’s administration is ready to implement all of Beijing’s policies for the territory, even if it means taking a position that is contrary to what the public wants.

The Hong Kong government is bent on investing in projects that are intended to facilitate the city’s integration with the mainland, rather than channel such vast resources to social welfare such as boosting the budget for health services and pension.

Hence, the youth started thinking of a Hong Kong that is outside the shadow of the mainland.

This doesn’t mean that the city must rise up and fight for independence, but the people must engage in substantive discussion and debate of the topic as Hong Kong moves closer to 2047.

Is Hong Kong capable of becoming an independent nation? Can Hong Kong win international support once the city has declared it is no longer a part of China?

All these questions remain unanswered. But these questions have to be asked, and the people have to discuss them if they hope to build a consensus before the proposal is presented in a referendum.

If everything remains unchanged, if the issue is not discussed, then Hong Kong will just have to wait until the “one country, two systems” policy formally ends in 2047, and is replaced by direct Beijing rule.

Hong Kong people should admire and respect the younger generation for daring to bring up what is considered a political taboo. It is important to discuss the issue while Beijing is still committed to the “one country, two systems” principle.

Right now, Hong Kong people’s attention is focused on Beijing’s moves to rein in the city’s autonomy. They just want to enjoy a higher degree of autonomy and avoid Beijing’s intervention.

Such a mindset shouldn’t be interpreted as clamoring for independence as it presupposes that Hong Kong is under Beijing rule.

But for a growing number of Hong Kong youngsters, splitting from Chinese rule is the only way out to ensure the kind of future they want for themselves and their children.

It is a brave dream, but so far it has no substance. Hong Kong people have not developed a national mentality after being under British colonial rule and, since 1997, becoming a special administrative region of China.

It becomes even more difficult as efforts are underway to deepen the city’s integration with the mainland.

A core element of independence should be the rise of nationalism in Hong Kong. It’s the foundation of any independent movement.

We could refer to Shih Ming, a Taiwan independence activist, who said that nationalism of Taiwan should involve: 1) Taiwanese concern for their future, 2) building an independent nation, 3) building a national economy, and 4) developing a Taiwanese culture.

The core of Taiwan independence is to reject foreign rule of the island.

Similarly, if Hong Kong needs to achieve its independence, there should be a similar discussion.

Hong Kong people need to discuss whether they want to continue to be ruled by China, or to be ruled by themselves.

The youth must understand that an independence movement is not simply urging people to protest against Beijing authorities. It involves building a national ideology, a national economy and an independent political system.

Such a movement should be led by the youth because it is their future that is at stake here.

But they must also show that they know what they are doing, that such a movement will be the best for Hong Kong.

The rise of localism could be the start of the development of a mindset that is geared towards independence, but more is needed to inject substance to the discourse.

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EJ Insight writer

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