19 July 2019
Beijing's crackdown on activists advocating self-determination for Hong Kong has backfired, leading to victory of candidates like Lau Siu-lai (pictured here) in the Legco election. Photo: HKEJ
Beijing's crackdown on activists advocating self-determination for Hong Kong has backfired, leading to victory of candidates like Lau Siu-lai (pictured here) in the Legco election. Photo: HKEJ

Beijing has only itself to blame for rise of HK separatism

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election has received widespread news coverage in the West. Some media outlets described the election as a heated square-off between the pro-Beijing faction and pro-independence groups, while some referred to the vote outcome as a reflection of the growing support for independence-leaning activists.

Most of these accounts were either inaccurate or marked a bit of exaggeration. The fact is that while there may be pro-independence rhetoric in Hong Kong, there isn’t any ongoing independence movement in society, nor is there any pro-independence organization that has substantial backing.

That said, Beijing has only itself to blame for the landslide victory of half a dozen pro-independence or independence-leaning candidates in the election.

It is because these first-time candidates, most of who were barely known to the public before the election, might not have received so much spotlight and public sympathy if authorities had not blown things completely out of proportion and overreacted to the independence concerns.

Beijing’s crackdown on pro-independence candidates and open intimidation of those who advocate self-determination for Hong Kong has completely backfired as it prompted even more people, both young and old, to cast their votes for the political rookies.

Thanks to Beijing’s paranoia, six candidates belonging to the localist or independence-leaning camps won by significant margins, and the turnout was record-high, while moderate pan-democratic old-timers will be taking a back seat in the next Legco.

The remarkable victory of the political newcomers in this election can be attributed to several factors.

First, the ultra-left party line adopted by President Xi Jinping, his tightened control on ideology and his massive crackdown on dissent since he came to power in 2012 have led to a tense political climate in the mainland, which had a spillover effect on Hong Kong.

On Xi’s orders, Beijing has started to adopt a much tougher stance on Hong Kong than what was seen during the reign of former president Hu Jintao, hence the increased interference in our city’s affairs. As a result, the boundary between “two systems” has blurred rapidly over the past several years.

The heavy-handedness of Beijing has not only raised grave concern among society in Hong Kong over the future of “One Country Two Systems” and the high degree of autonomy promised under the Basic Law, it also alienated a lot of people in our city, particularly the younger generation.

To make things worse, the patronizing and sometimes intimidating tone of senior mainland officials whenever they comment on our city’s affairs has simply exacerbated the anger and indignation among the people of Hong Kong toward Beijing. Amid this situation, more and more people are being drawn to the localist and even pro-independence theme.

Next, the low credibility and incompetence of the Leung Chun-ying administration has also contributed to the high turnout in the Legco election and the victory of anti-establishment candidates.

Disaffected and frustrated, a lot of people wanted to get back at Leung Chun-ying, who they believe is nothing but a Beijing lackey, by casting their votes for young and radical anti-establishment activists.

Lastly, several incidents in Hong Kong in recent years — such as the cold-blooded assault on Kevin Lau, the former chief editor of the Ming Pao Daily; the erosion of the autonomy of our universities; a spate of conflicts between locals and mainlanders; and the disappearance of some booksellers — have further fuelled Communistphobia and anti-Beijing sentiment among the local public.

Many believe Beijing is on a secret mission to hasten Hong Kong’s assimilation into the mainland socially, politically and economically. Feeling that their existing way of life and core values are under a threat, many people resorted to their only weapon to stand up against Beijing, which is their vote.

The results of the Legco election once again illustrate a universal truth: the more the oppression from those in power, the greater will be the resistance from the common people.

As the people of Hong Kong have been forced into a corner by Beijing, what they are doing now is simply this: take a desperate stand against tyranny.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 8.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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