Some young college graduates, still a bit wet behind the ears, founded the Hong Kong National Party last month with a pro-Hong Kong independence platform.
Beijing lost no time hitting out with severe denunciations, yet its Hong Kong underlings in the city’s government found it a little bit inconvenient to echo their masters this time, as freedom of association is a golden thread that runs through the fabric of Hong Kong’s common law system.
But other cadres and pro-Beijing figures outside the government once again made a great fuss and lectured us: Beijing liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) said a clear line in the sand must be drawn, as it’s “a cardinal issue of principle”; former justice chief Elsie Leung Oi-sie, now a deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, warned the move has “hurt Beijing’s trust in the territory”; and Sing Tao News Corp. chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok scoffed that Hongkongers will hardly buy extreme notions like independence.
Still, I wonder whether most Hongkongers feel that such censure is really necessary as a response to a bunch of students saying — in a society with freedom of speech — that they want Hong Kong to go independent.
That said, the possibility cannot be ruled out that these calls for independence may have been incited by plotters behind the scenes.
Now, Beijing is unlikely to crack down too hard on Hongkongers’ peaceful pursuit of a genuine free vote, since for its own sake, the central government needs to ensure that Hong Kong remains useful to it, and it may also dread the prospect of the hefty international backlash that would ensue.
However, it could be an entirely different scenario if Hongkongers revolt against China’s suzerainty and want to secede.
Hongkongers are mostly Chinese by blood and ethnicity, and even though they may pooh-pooh patriotism or their Chinese nationality, they cannot deny the common lineage.
Beijing has sternly insisted that Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China “since ancient times”: a Global Times editorial said Hong Kong became part of China in the Qin dynasty, more than 200 years before Christ.
It’s just a way of reiterating that the city will never be allowed to go independent, no matter what happens.
Young separatists, like the founders of the Hong Kong National Party, have to stick to the principle of non-violence, since once they cross the line with more strident tactics, they will lend Beijing a loaded pistol, a pretext if not a righteous excuse to mount a forcible suppression of the city — in which case, the international community will be told to shut up as Beijing is defending its sovereignty.
Some may be fishing in troubled waters and seek to take advantage of the city becoming chaotic.
Whipping up pro-independence sentiment and even engineering riots could be an effective red rag to a bull.
In a time of profound uncertainty and bewilderment, anything can happen.
Beijing must reflect on why a sense of estrangement from the mainland is spreading like wildfire in Hong Kong.
The latest poll by the Central Policy Unit, the top government think tank, found that 42.3 percent of young Hongkongers aged between 15 and 35 (more than half of them tertiary degree holders) support the pan-democratic bloc, and support among them for the pro-establishment camp stands at a paltry 5.3 percent.
The locally made, low-budget dystopian movie Ten Years, branded by a Beijing mouthpiece as a “virus to the mind”, was honored as best picture of 2015 at last weekend’s Hong Kong Film Awards.
Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman and film tycoon Peter Lam Kin-ngok called the award proof of “politics hijacking professionalism” — yet would he spare a second to ask himself what led to that occurring?
Why did the Hong Kong Film Awards Association, used to focusing on the mainland market, dare to pick a highly charged political movie that is clearly irksome to Beijing as the year’s best?
Apparently, not a few of the judges cast their vote in protest of Beijing’s excesses.
I suggest that Lam, who owns Media Asia Film Co. Ltd., think about why Hong Kong’s film professionals would rather choose to show some spine than bow to the mainland.
Several commentaries in a special issue of the Undergrad, the official magazine of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, have also struck a chord. Publishers of the magazine should perhaps consider making it available outside the HKU campus.
Columns in the magazine say: “The source of our indignation toward the authorities is our fear, the fear that Hong Kong as we know it is about to perish”, and “only through struggle and disobedience can we feel our own existence and fill the void”.
“Our 2047″, the last article in the series, voices the disillusion of the younger generation: “We once chose to believe China, but were only left betrayed … the Umbrella Movement was our final cry of freedom, and we were naïve to believe that our sweat and tears in Admiralty and Mong Kok could bring some changes, but things didn’t go as we wished.”
Hong Kong independence can never become reality, as peaceful protests have failed to move Beijing, and valiant confrontations will only end in greater violence.
But students have shown their guts and reasoning in their articles.
The Hong Kong government can hold their calls in utter contempt, but Beijing must respond squarely.
If Hong Kong becomes a mess, Beijing, as well as Hongkongers, stands to lose.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 5.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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