26 October 2016
Disillusionment with "one country, two systems" is the root cause of the rise of the pro-independence movement in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
Disillusionment with "one country, two systems" is the root cause of the rise of the pro-independence movement in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Pro-independence genie can’t be put back in the bottle

At the end of March, a group of young people, mostly university students, set up a political organization known as Hong Kong National Party and vowed to push for independence.

Almost immediately after the party unveiled its manifesto, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Department of Justice issued strongly worded statements condemning any attempt to seek Hong Kong’s independence.

That would be in violation of the Basic Law, as well as the territorial integrity and national security of China, they said.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen warned that the authorities will be keeping a close eye on the party and its activities and that decisive action will be taken if necessary.

The idea of Hong Kong independence, until lately often dismissed out of hand by the public, has been gaining momentum in recent months thanks to an article in Undergrad, a University of Hong Kong student publication.

The article, aptly titled Our 2047, argues that Hong Kong should seize the opportunity to determine its own future in the run-up to that fateful date when all treaties relating to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty expire.

Among the options mentioned is secession from China.

Suddenly, the pro-independence discourse has become mainstream.

The so-called principles of “national unity” and “territorial integrity” have been stressed by Beijing officials and aired in government-sponsored TV commercials so often they have become cliché.

More and more people, especially the younger generation, are getting fed up with them. The more they hear those words, the more they’re drawn to the notion of independence.

On Saturday during a radio show, I pointed out in no uncertain terms to the chief editor of Undergrad and some leaders of student unions that independence is a dead end that will only lead Hong Kong to catastrophe.

Even US-backed Taiwan with a population of 23 million and a sizeable military doesn’t dare declare independence from China.

Still, instead of denouncing those who talk about it as “anti-China subversives”, the government should acknowledge the fact that almost 20 years since the handover, more and more of our young people are disillusioned with “one country, two systems”.

They no longer believe that the Basic Law truly protects our freedoms or ensures judicial independence and civil rights or promotes our values and way of life.

This is the root cause of the rapid rise of the pro-independence movement. Beijing and the Hong Kong government should be held responsible for alienating our young people.

The pro-independence idea is like a genie that once out of the bottle, it cannot be put back in.

Young people who have vowed to continue the conversation over independence will not be muzzled even if the government says merely talking about it is illegal.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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