16 September 2019
Members of Watershed Hong Kong don vintage military uniforms in their re-enactment of the Battle of Hong Kong. Photo: Internet
Members of Watershed Hong Kong don vintage military uniforms in their re-enactment of the Battle of Hong Kong. Photo: Internet

Beijing mouthpieces link war commemoration to independence army

December 2016 marked the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Battle of Hong Kong, one of the first battles in the Pacific during World War II, which happened on the morning of Dec. 8, 1941 just as Pearl Harbor was attacked.

British Hong Kong fell to the Japanese invaders in about two weeks’ time, despite tenacious resistance from the local garrison.

Commemorative activities were held across the territory last month, including one called “Living Monuments”, which was organized by Watershed Hong Kong (時代思進), a localist concern group made up mostly of college students seeking to promote historical awareness.

More than a dozen of its volunteers paraded in Central, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui, wearing the brown uniforms of the Royal Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, a local auxilliary militia force of mostly ethnic Chinese recruits who fought alongside British, Canadian, Indian and Nepalese soldiers in the battle 75 years ago.

They handed out pamphlets about the battle and the role played by the militia as the crowd watched a re-enactment of the battle scenes.

On Thursday, or less than a month after the event, Wen Wei Po, one of Beijing’s mouthpieces in the city, assailed the group for advocating Hong Kong independence and “forming an army to split Hong Kong from China under the cloak of war commemoration”.

The newspaper accused Watershed Hong Kong of “deliberately fabricating historical facts for an army of Hongkongers to spread separatism”.

It went on to say that the group was bent on whipping up hatred of the central authorities via politically motivated campaigns. The newspaper never bothered with any evidence, however.

On the other hand, not a single word about Hong Kong independence was mentioned when the city’s other newspapers reported the December activities.

Watershed Hong Kong stated on its Facebook page that it does not endorse any political stance or engage in propaganda through its events, be it independence for the territory or reunification with Britain.

Still, the Wen Wei Po article was carried by the Beijing-based Global Times, a newspaper that is increasingly known locally for its fiery attacks against Hong Kong separatism.

Similar commentaries based on the Wen Wei Po report have also appeared on major mainland news portals including NetEase, Sina and Sohu, with mainland netizens reposting the articles and adding their strident patriotic remarks.

In its report, Wen Wei Po hinted that Watershed Hong Kong is seeking to challenge the role of the Dongjiang Column (東江縱隊), a Communist Party-led guerrilla force from Guangdong province that also participated in Hong Kong’s defense against the Japanese invasion.

It quoted one unnamed participant as saying that the guerrillas didn’t have a direct confrontation with the Japanese.

In 1998, then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa placed a roll of honor of the Hong Kong Independent Battalion of the Dongjiang Column in a memorial shrine at City Hall, in recognition of their contributions and status as Communist martyrs.

There has been an obvious tendency to highlight the role of the Dongjiang Column in the SAR government’s official documents and war commemorations since the handover.

Members of the guerrilla force are invited to attend such events as key guests. However, government representatives seldom appear in ceremonies honoring the thousands of foreign troops who sacrificed their lives as principal defenders in the Battle of Hong Kong.

Ta Kung Pao, another pro-Beijing publication, also ran a front page feature on Thursday, accusing members of Watershed Hong Kong of “brazenly turning calls for Hong Kong independence into firm actions in the streets of the city”.

In its editorial, the newspaper warned that localism and separatism are no longer just subjects of academic discussions but a genuine threat to Hong Kong.

It called on the central and local authorities to take resolute measures to stop and criminalize the group and prevent more people from joining it.

The rationale to link the December commemorations to separatism is unclear.

Beijing, in fact, shouldn’t feel any displeasure because the local re-enactment of the Battle of Hong Kong was meant to honor the people’s resistance to the Japanese invasion.

Some observers say it could just be another attempt by leftists to lash out at localists, no matter how farfetched their allegations are, in order to score more brownie points with Beijing.

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Members of the Hong Kong Volunteers Defense Corps march on the streets of Hong Kong in 1941. Photo: Govt Records Services

Japanese warplanes bombard Central and Sheung Wan during the battle. Photo: Wikimedia

Japanese soldiers patrol in Kowloon after the battle. The Tsim Sha Tsui clock tower is in the background. Photo: Wikimedia