21 October 2016
The government is getting increasingly worried over calls for self-determination. Photo: HKEJ
The government is getting increasingly worried over calls for self-determination. Photo: HKEJ

How the government should respond to calls for independence

As more political parties are being established to take part in the raging debate on the future of Hong Kong after 2047, the government is getting more worried over discussions about independence.

Beijing officials wasted no time in warning Hong Kong people and organizations that talking about the issue publicly is against the Basic Law.

But the stronger the pressure being applied by the government, the more the people want to know about the topic, regardless of whether they support it or not.

The government is worried because such discussions could lead to action. This early, there is an emerging view that the government should call a referendum on whether or not Hong Kong should stay with China after 2047.

In fact, some quarters are saying, the referendum should be held along with the Legislative Council elections in September.

Of course, the Hong Kong government and the government of the People’s Republic of China will not allow such a referendum to take place.

For them, it is no different from a call for self-determination and independence.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that holding a referendum on the future of Hong Kong is against the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

“Hong Kong is an inseparable part of the mainland,” Leung said. “Many of the youngsters who are making demands for such a referendum lack an understanding about some of Hong Kong’s history.”

However, Leung did not elaborate on what part of Hong Kong’s history the youth need to understand in order to refrain from calling for a referendum.

From the government’s perspective, independence is not a subject or issue to be discussed among officials because Hong Kong is a part of China, and the power of the government comes from Beijing. 

Any such discussion will no doubt draw condemnation from the Chinese authorities.

That’s why Hong Kong officials have taken the official line of Beijing in responding to the call for Hong Kong independence.

But from the people’s perspective, establishing a political party with the aim of achieving Hong Kong self-determination is part of the freedom enjoyed by the people and protected by the Basic Law.

Still, the government has many tools and weapons at its disposal to quell these independence-seeking organizations.

For example, Demosisto, a political party recently founded by student leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, is not allowed to set up a bank account for the purpose of accepting public donations, while the government is expected to stand firm on its refusal to register such organizations in order to follow Beijing’s official line.

Still, many Hong Kong citizens cannot understand why they cannot talk about independence when the law protects their freedom of expression and right to form an organization.

Officials are now saying that Hong Kong people can discuss independence privately, but they may be violating the law if they voice out their support for independence publicly as that would encourage people to take action to achieve their goal.

But all these warnings may be for naught because the very idea of self-determination has sparked something in the hearts of the people, who cannot be prevented from thinking of such a possibility.

As Beijing tightens the reins on Hong Kong, the people will grow more uncomfortable with Beijing. 

More pro-independence organizations will emerge and win support from the younger generation.

These groups could become the fourth-largest political force in Hong Kong after the Beijing loyalist camp, traditional democrats and radical democrats.

According to information gathered from media reports in recent months, there could be more than 10 candidates from pro-independence groups who will run in the coming Legco elections, and they are using Hong Kong self-determination as their battle cry to lure supporters.

Demosisto is planning a referendum on self-determination in 10 years’ time to let Hong Kong people make the decision.

Some radical groups are even going as far as to call for the rejection of the Communist Party’s rule.

But most of the emerging organizations are simply interested in seeking the people’s opinion on the options for Hong Kong’s future, and such options include remaining under China’s rule and splitting from China.

This means that these organizations have not shut the door on keeping Hong Kong under China’s sovereignty.

What many Hong Kong people cannot accept is the notion that they cannot discuss a topic that concerns their future.

Many Hong Kong people are not opposing the current political relationship of Hong Kong and China. If a territory-wide referendum is conducted, and the people are asked if they want Hong Kong to remain a part of China after 2047, chances are more than half of them will answer “yes”.

A debate on independence will show that Beijing is willing to listen to the opinions of Hong Kong people on the issue.

But the question is, will Beijing allow it to happen?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter