18 July 2019
Nathan Law (in white shirt) is among the young pro-democracy activists who have scored victories in Hong Kong's Legislative Council election. Photo: Reuters
Nathan Law (in white shirt) is among the young pro-democracy activists who have scored victories in Hong Kong's Legislative Council election. Photo: Reuters

Why young radicals have gained the support of HK voters

Following the Legislative Council election, I learnt that many of my friends and I had something in common with regard to the Sunday vote: we cast our ballots in favor of young candidates advocating localism even though none of us support Hong Kong independence.

Although the independence topic strikes a chord with many people, we do not agree that Hong Kong should pursue that path.

However, since the future is in the hands of the young generation and we are getting fed up with the older and traditional pan-democrats, we opted for young localist candidates in the election, as did many other voters who are desperate for change and hope.

To be fair, localism is not the same as independence or separatism. Yet the relationship between these ideas is so subtle that there’s just a fine thread distinguishing the two. It depends very well on the future political landscape whether the two themes would merge into one.

Given the current method of working of the central government and the Hong Kong administration, independence sentiments are no doubt gaining ground in the city.

As the Financial Times suggested, Hong Kong separatism is a movement made in China.

The central government, as in the cases of Xinjiang and Tibet, never quite fulfilled its promises toward Hong Kong. The city’s autonomy has been eroded and Beijing’s invisible control is for real.

Shameless interference by the Liaison Office in the Legco election, as well as in the appointment of key officials in Hong Kong earlier, has alarmed most Hongkongers. Given this, it is not surprising that separatism ideas are getting more play in the city.

The Hong Kong government has made matters worse by taking the pseudo-threat seriously and stating that there is no room for discussion of Hong Kong “independence” in schools. By doing so, the administration has gone against the citizens’ right to free speech.

If independence is deemed a pseudo-proposition, the government should make its case by convincing people that the idea is irrational and that the objective is impossible to achieve, pointing to the legal framework, cultural and historical aspects, political reality, and so on.

Truth can be ascertained only through debate. However, what we are seeing is that the government is seeking to suppress the conversation. Authorities should realize that if the fundamental right of freedom of expression is taken away from the people, it will only backfire.

In a short span of two years, the chatter in Hong Kong has evolved from a demand for universal suffrage into one for independence. Localist advocates have gained support among the public and made their way into the Legco.

If authorities in Beijing and its proxies here do not introspect seriously and change their ways, pro-independence sentiments could become unstoppable in Hong Kong.

While most people here still do not support separatism, their sympathy for radical groups will grow if they feel that the city’s freedoms and autonomy will be undermined further under Beijing’s rule.

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

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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