23 October 2016
'Traditional legal rights enjoyed by New Territories people could gradually be taken away if New Territories people do not stand together,' Bowie Hau says. Photo: HKEJ
'Traditional legal rights enjoyed by New Territories people could gradually be taken away if New Territories people do not stand together,' Bowie Hau says. Photo: HKEJ

Why the kuk is setting up a New Territories party

While the public is focusing on how the rise of localist groups will affect the traditional democrats in the Legislative Council election in September, it seems the pro-Beijing camp is also facing a significant change.

A new political party supported by the Heung Yee Kuk is expected to win three seats in the election in a challenge to the leadership of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

The kuk has been part of Hong Kong’s political landscape for decades.

It is a statutory advisory body comprising representatives of 27 rural villages in the New Territories.

The kuk’s existence is based on the Heung Yee Kuk Ordinance, and it has a seat in Legco.

So, is it necessary for the kuk to form a new wing to try to win votes from the public in the Legco election?

The ongoing split between the kuk and the DAB reflects the conflict between the Beijing loyalists and indigenous villagers in the New Territories.

Under a policy handed down by the British colonial government, each male indigenous villager has a special right to build a “small house” on village land.

The policy is unpopular with most Hongkongers outside those villages, which puts the DAB in a difficult position if it continues to support the villagers in their fight to protect that right against those who would put an end to it.

If the kuk establishes its new political party, the Hong Kong political spectrum will be made up of four key factions: the pan-democrats, the localists, the Beijing loyalists and the New Territories group.

The kuk has been preparing in the past few months to set up the political party.

Bowie Hau Chi-keung, a member of the Liberal Party and chairman of the Sheung Shui Rural Committee, is playing a key role in forming the new party.

He told media it will be named the New Territories Progressive Alliance, its mission being to play the role of an “outspoken servant” to the authorities.

The new party won’t be blindly loyal to the Hong Kong government. 

Hau said it will criticize the government’s incorrect policies, in an attempt to establish a unique position when compared with other parties in the pro-Beijing camp.

The NTPA’s mission statement is “Love China, love Hong Kong, love rural” and “Develop New Territories and maintain Hong Kong’s prosperity”.

But it is quite clear that the formation of the party is a reaction by the indigenous villagers to the government’s perceived reluctance to protect the Small House Policy.

“Traditional legal rights enjoyed by New Territories people could gradually be taken away if New Territories people do not stand together,” Hau said.

The new party aims to bring “the voice of justice” into the legislature but will avoid violence.

Its mission statement attracted more than 10,000 applications to be among the party’s founding members. 

They are mainly from district councillors, barristers and civil servants.

Kenneth Lau Ip-Keung, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk — and the son of longtime kuk boss Lau Wong-fat, known as the “King of the New Territories” — is expected to be nominated as the party’s chairman.

The establishment of the party reflects a split in the pro-Beijing camp.

That camp includes the DAB, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, the New People’s Party, the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA) and the Liberal Party.

The political interests of the New Territories have long been represented in Legco by the DAB, the BPA and the Liberal Party.

The formation of the new party will no doubt dilute support for the other parties in the camp.

Some political analysts believe that whether the plan to establish the NTPA will go ahead very much depends on Beijing’s blessing.

The central government may not want to see the further fragmentation of the pro-Beijing camp, but it cannot neglect the New Territories villagers’ insistence that their rights under the Small House Policy be protected.

Beijing will focus on the stability and harmony of Hong Kong as a whole, rather than ensuring the privilege enjoyed by a small group of people will not be taken away.

If the New Territories indigenous villagers feel they must send their own representatives to Legco because their pro-establishment allies do not protect their interests, the split among the Beijing loyalists led by the DAB could be considered a source of social instability and could affect the silent majority’s opinion of the pro-establishment camp.

A Hong Kong court recently found some villagers in the New Territories guilty of a fraud againstthe Lands Department for selling their “small house” rights to a developer.

The kuk expressed its concern about the judgment by placing full-page advertisements in local newspapers to defend indigenous villagers’ rights under the Small House Policy.

The plan to establish a new political party is an attempt to secure wider public support for the special right.

The Small House Policy was introduced in 1972, just 44 years ago.

Each male indigenous villager who possesses a piece of land in the New Territories is entitled under the policy to the privilege of building a small house with no more than three stories of 700 square feet each.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is blaming the lack of land for the housing problem in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the New Territories villagers are competing with all other Hongkongers for land to build their houses.

The new party seems to be designed to take the side of the indigenous villagers of the New Territories against the rest of the people of Hong Kong.

The government has been talking about reviewing the Small House Policy.

Against this backdrop, the emergence of the NTPA will pose another political headache for the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter