22 July 2018
Some younger democrats posted a 'Resolution on Hong Kong's Future' on social media (inset). Photos: Reuters, Facebook
Some younger democrats posted a 'Resolution on Hong Kong's Future' on social media (inset). Photos: Reuters, Facebook

Why democrats are split on call for HK independence

It’s strange to see the traditional democratic camp keeping silent in the recent heated debate over the call by some radical young political groups for independence for Hong Kong.

Some supporters of the democrats are worried that the old-school politicians might be absorbed into the establishment camp as they rely on Beijing’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle.

But on Thursday, a group of young politicians and academics from the democratic camp issued a “Resolution on Hong Kong’s Future” on social media to present to the public their views on the future of Hong Kong when the commitment to that principle expires in 2047.

The declaration was signed on a personal basis by fewer than 40 people.

They include Civic Party members Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Tanya Chan Suk-chong, the Democratic Party’s Eric Lam Lap-chi, Institute of Education political science scholar Brian Fong Chi-hang and social commentator Max Wong Wai-lun.

Apart from Yeung, no other democratic lawmakers signed the declaration.

So, the declaration represents the views of only a small number of democrats on the topic.

In fact, traditional democrats still have different views on the question of Hong Kong independence.

It’s still far enough in the future for the democratic camp to work out a unified stance before 2047 on whether to support independence or self-determination for the city.

The declaration demands the right to determine Hong Kong’s affairs internally in accordance with self-determination principles under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“Hong Kong’s political status after 2047 should be decided by the people of Hong Kong through mechanisms which carry a democratic mandate and are binding,” the declaration says.

Its signatories suggest “perpetual self-rule” as an option for Hong Kong.

Unlike younger activists, who don’t rule out a violent approach to voicing their goal, the declaration states its signatories will stick to non-violent resistance in an effort to gain the approval of most Hongkongers to fight for political reforms and that they are not opposed to negotiating with Beijing on the city’s future.

Compared with pro-independence groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous, the Hong Kong National Party and others that clearly state their support for independence or recognition of Hong Kong as an independent political entity, the declaration is quite conservative on the possible status of Hong Kong.

It leaves the options open for public discussion.

The soft stance indicates the signatories are trying to avoid breaching the Basic Law as well as mainland Chinese laws, as it states Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.

Some radical pro-independence columnists responded coolly to the declaration, saying its soft stance on Hong Kong independence and its suggestion of internal self-determination has nothing to offer to break the deadlock between Hong Kong and the mainland.

They argued that the declaration indicates the signatories’ intention to let Hong Kong stay in China and that they do not dare touch the bottom line of the Communist Party.

So, the opposition camp is now splitting into two streams.

Traditional pan-democrats, including those who signed the declaration, still recognize the statutory relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, and their aim is to fight for “internal self-determination” for Hong Kong after 2047.

The other stream is pro-independence groups who say Hong Kong should secede from China to become an independent state.

The traditional democrats are clearly no longer the only opposition camp in Hong Kong political landscape.

The pro-independence camp could play a key role in the Legislative Council election in September as it tests the water to see to what extent Hongkongers support their call for independence.

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing Hongkongers and mainland officials in Hong Kong have displayed a tough stance in front of media cameras, saying it’s illegal for Hongkongers to discuss independence, saying it violates the laws of Hong Kong and China.

They are trying their best to redefine freedom of expression, saying that it has its limitations.

The tough stance demonstrates that the authorities are taking the calls for independence, as well as the potential support for it in the Legco election, seriously.

Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, who is visiting Hong Kong next month, is expected to issue a hardline statement on calls for Hong Kong independence, in an attempt to suppress the debate.

But the fact is that the debate over independence is now unavoidable, as more politicians and young Hongkongers discuss the option seriously and present theoretical arguments in favor of it.

All the political pronouncements won’t stop the young people of Hong Kong from delving deeply into the issue.

Thursday’s declaration may help to narrow the gap, but its conservative approach can only help the pro-independence camp to gain momentum in the Legco election campaign.

More Hongkongers, especially the younger first-time voters, might prefer to offer their support to the pro-independence camp in the election in an effort to balance out the voice of the pro-unification camp, which now includes traditional democrats as well as Beijing loyalists.

That’s the new political landscape in Hong Kong. 

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EJ Insight writer

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