21 April 2019
Edward Leung from the nativist group Hong Kong Indigenous could run foul of the loyalty test. Photo: Reuters
Edward Leung from the nativist group Hong Kong Indigenous could run foul of the loyalty test. Photo: Reuters

What Beijing needs to understand about separatists

Edward Leung and his Occupy Movement peers are on course to win in the coming Legislative Council elections, unless they run foul of a requirement to pledge allegiance to the Basic Law.

The measure was inserted by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), presumably under Beijing’s direction, to screen out separatists who have been a thorn in its side.

It’s a panicked admission by the authorities that the separatist movement has gained so much momentum it must be stopped.

But the move could backfire.

It could drive voters toward Edward Leung or win sympathy for young activists.

This administration has only itself to blame for the rise of pro-independence forces.

The very idea of an independent Hong Kong has no legal basis.

Article One of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong is an “inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China”.

But if we had a stay-or-split vote, just like in the Scottish referendum, I bet many will opt to leave.

There’s no denying that the separatists — those calling for self-determination, a city state status with full autonomy, an alliance with Taiwan, full independence or a return to British rule — have their eyes on 2047 when the Basic Law expires.

No one wants independence today. The idea is empty talk.

Demosistō’s Joshua Wong and Nathan Law want a referendum before 2047. Hong Kong Indigenous wants a discussion of Hong Kong’s post-2047 future.

Still, this does not make them troublemakers. Neither are they in breach of the EAC requirement on the Basic Law.

In fact, the entire separatist movement poses no imminent threat to Beijing or the SAR government.

I said in a previous column that under certain extreme circumstances, such as if the Communist Party collapses and China plunges into anarchy, Hong Kong could justifiably secede for its own sake.

Another scenario is if the governing authority falls apart and causes the constitution to cease functioning.

An independent Hong Kong might be in Beijing’s best interest and a peaceful divorce is not implausible and would be a win-win situation.

Beijing officials like to say that most Hongkongers are patriotic.

But privately, because of their long colonial history, they are seen by Beijing as running dogs for foreign powers and are easily manipulated.

Beijing’s response is to nip any such tendencies in the bud. The loyalty declaration requirement for Legco candidates is an example of that approach.

Old-school democrats think most Hongkongers genuinely love China but not as well as they should.

They blame the three post-handover leaders for that. They say Beijing must do its part to win their hearts and minds. 

The irony is that Beijing might be right. Hongkongers, by virtue of their own history, have nativism in their blood. They care about their way of life more than they do about the country.

This is something Beijing needs to understand.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 25.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The Electoral Affairs Commission wants Legco candidates to sign a loyalty pledge. Those who refused are still waiting for the result of their appllication for candidacy. Photo: RTHK

Candidates from the pan-democratic camp say they will not sign a loyalty declaration, calling the requirement illegal. Photo: Now TV

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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