22 July 2018
Hundreds of professionals in Hong Kong's legal sector hold a silent rally in Admiralty to oppose Beijing's move to interpret Article 104 of the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ
Hundreds of professionals in Hong Kong's legal sector hold a silent rally in Admiralty to oppose Beijing's move to interpret Article 104 of the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ

Does separatism really constitute a threat?

Beijing’s all-encompassing interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law indicates that it will go to any length to make sure there is no place for separatists in the Legislative Council, and that it is determined to eliminate separatism in Hong Kong quickly and decisively before it ever takes hold.

From Beijing’s point of view, one important criterion for choosing the next chief executive is whether that person would obey its order of suppressing the growth of separatism in the city without question.

From Beijing’s perspective, separatism constitutes a threat.

However, from our point of view, we need to get a full picture of the status of separatism in Hong Kong and to understand how big a problem it actually is.

This is important so we can keep things in proportion and won’t either overreact or under-react to the situation.

Since there is yet to be any comprehensive study on the growth of separatism in Hong Kong, I can only piece together the puzzle based on media reports and the results of opinion polls conducted by various institutions on this subject.

According to a poll conducted by the Chinese University back in July this year on the way forward for our city after 2047, an overall 17.4 percent of respondents were in favor of secession from the mainland.

In the 15-24 age group, almost 40 percent supported Hong Kong independence.

However, when asked whether they sincerely believe seeking independence is a viable option, only 3.7 percent answered yes.

In other words, while the idea of secession from China might have a sizable audience, only a very handful of them truly believe it is going to work.

Simply put, separatism in our city, to a large extent, remains merely a rhetoric.

Interestingly, according to the same poll, 13.8 percent of respondents were in favor of a complete takeover of our city by Beijing, while 17.4 percent were in favor of independence.

Based on these findings, perhaps it would be logical to infer that extreme public views, be they in favor of separatism or complete takeover by Beijing, could have been just an emotional response to express their dismay at the status quo rather than a genuine political conviction.

However, while separatism could just remain a rhetoric, it is undeniable that this kind of rhetoric has begun to resonate with more and more young people, especially university students and graduates.

According to a survey done in August by the Undergrad, a periodical published by the Hong Kong University Student Union, those in favor of Hong Kong’s independence are up from 15 percent in 2014 to 41 percent this year, while those who support the “one country, two systems” are down from 68 percent in 2014 to 43 percent this year.

The growth in the support for separatism among young people can perhaps be attributed to public anger over the so-called 831 resolution of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which denied us genuine election and the frustration of young people over the fruitless Occupy Movement and the current stalemate in our democratization process.

That deep sense of frustration, coupled with their righteous indignation of the heavy-handedness of Beijing and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in suppressing the pro-democracy movement, simply served as a catalyst for the growth of separatism in Hong Kong.

However, despite the fact that the separatist sentiment is gaining momentum in our city, it is important that we do not allow our fears to rise out of proportion to the actual threat – if I can call that a threat at all.

It is because the influence of some of the leading pro-independence groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous and the Hong Kong National Party has been largely exaggerated.

After all, the rise of separatism in Hong Kong has its roots in the growing lack of confidence with the “one country, two systems” among fellow citizens, particularly the younger generation.

As such, I believe the only way to eradicate separatism is to restore people’s confidence in the “one country, two systems”.

Suppression will only lead to more resistance and alienation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 9.

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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