16 February 2019
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is often mocked as the 'Father of Separatism' because he was the person who first drew public attention to the subject. Photo: CNSA, HKEJ
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is often mocked as the 'Father of Separatism' because he was the person who first drew public attention to the subject. Photo: CNSA, HKEJ

Separatism: What goes around comes around

Following its controversial decision to bar pro-independence candidates from running for Legco, the Leung Chun-ying administration is taking aim at schools and attempting to ban all discussion of Hong Kong independence in classrooms and lecture halls.

Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim recently met with several education organizations and parent-teacher associations on the issue and stressed that any act of advocating Hong Kong’s secession from China is against the Basic Law. He also confirmed that Chief Executive Leung had earlier met with the vice-chancellors of the eight local universities over the same matter.

However, both Leung and Ng have remained rather equivocal over where to draw the line between “advocating” and “discussing” the independence of Hong Kong, nor did they say in no uncertain terms that the topic cannot be touched on in schools under all circumstances.

Perhaps it is because they are both well aware that under the existing law of Hong Kong, our citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, which means everybody can discuss any topic they want as long as they are not inciting others to violence or other criminal offences.

Ironically, if Leung hadn’t, in his Policy Address in January 2015, lambasted the Undergrad, a periodical published by the Hong Kong University Student Union, for running an article on the possibility of Hong Kong’s secession from China, the pro-independence cause might never have caught public attention and become a legitimate subject for discussion in the mainstream media.

To make things worse, the pro-independence movement quickly gained momentum among the younger generation as the chief executive publicly referred to the Mongkok clashes in February this year as a “riot”.

As a result, Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence organization that spearheaded the clashes in February, wowed the public by snapping up 60,000 votes in a Legco by-election in March. The outcome showed that a substantial portion of voters were sympathetic towards a candidate who is considered by the authorities as a rioter.

Deeply worried that Edward Leung might win a seat in the upcoming Legco election, the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) has decided that it must bar him from running at all costs.

However, his unconstitutional disqualification from the election is likely to further exacerbate public anger over the government’s suppression of free speech and boost the election prospects of other independence-leaning or pro-independence candidates of a lower profile.

In other words, it is quite likely that the EAC’s moves to erase pro-independence candidates from the upcoming election may backfire on the government and generate even more public sympathy for the pro-independence cause.

One indication of growing public sympathy for separatism following the disqualification saga is that students in several local secondary schools, some of them prominent institutions, have formed their own concern groups to root for the pro-independence cause.

Chief Executive Leung is often mocked as the “Father of Separatism”. It is because he is the person who first drew public attention to the subject, and also as his subsequent crackdown on pro-independence activists has only fueled separatist sentiment in society, especially among the youth.

In retrospect, the rapid rise of separatist sentiment in our city since Leung first brought it up 19 months ago could have been avoided if he had taken the initiative to address the grievances of our young people by extending the olive branch and initiating dialogue with them.

But unfortunately, the government remained belligerent and confrontational as ever in the wake of the Occupy Movement and the Mongkok clashes, thereby further intensifying social tensions and alienating our young people.

As proven time and again in history, the more suppression from the authorities, the more resistance from among the people. The government’s continued crackdown on separatism will almost certainly provoke an even more ferocious public backlash in the days ahead.

The administration should ponder this: shouldn’t it be reflecting on its unpopular policies and seeking remedies rather than stepping up a crackdown on civil rights and blaming everything on “hostile foreign powers”?

At a time when more and more people are losing faith in “One Country Two Systems”, won’t the government’s ill-advised actions make things only worse?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 24.

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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