18 February 2019
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor who was once denounced by Beijing as 'the sinner of the millennium', has acknowledged that separatism is nothing but a dead end. Photo: AFP
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor who was once denounced by Beijing as 'the sinner of the millennium', has acknowledged that separatism is nothing but a dead end. Photo: AFP

Time to stop being entangled in the separatism farce and move on

There will be a lot of official pomp and circumstance to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the mainland on July 1, not to mention that President Xi Jinping himself will be coming to Hong Kong to officiate at the inauguration of incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her new cabinet.

Meanwhile, the pan-democrats are also busy preparing for the July 1 rally on Saturday. However, it is widely expected that this year’s rally is likely to have a lower turnout than last year’s.

Lam remains fairly popular among the public since her election, and the majority of the people of this city are eagerly awaiting the transition of government on Saturday and looking forward to Lam’s promised “new deal”, thereby reducing the incentive for people to take to the streets this time.

Another major reason for an expected low turnout for this year’s July 1 rally is that political extremism and separatism, which were once at the forefront of local social mass movements, have fallen out of public favor in recent years, while a centrist and moderate approach to democracy has been gaining in popularity.

Andrew To, former chairman of the League of Social Democrats and once a radical himself, recently told an interview that the so-called valor faction and the radical localists started to fall apart three years ago. And today, they are basically “finished”.

Indeed, a recent poll conducted by the Chinese University indicated that the percentage of young people in favor of secession from China has plummeted significantly.

According to some academics, the recent plunge in public support for separatism can be attributed to several factors, such as changing attitudes as a result of more profound reflection on the issue among young people, and the negative public image of some localist politicians.

That both extremism and separatism are losing ground in Hong Kong matches Lam’s assessment of the so-called growth of separatism in our city. During a media interview hosted by former Legco president Jasper Tsang, Lam said the vast majority of people, including the pan-democrats, still have faith in “one country, two systems”.

She also expressed strong reservations about the notion that separatism poses an imminent threat to Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong as some in the leftist camp have insisted. She said separatism is far from constituting the slightest cause for concern at this point.

Although Carrie Lam has toughened her stance on separatism recently and declared that all separatist activities would be considered illegal in Hong Kong, it hasn’t contradicted her initial views on this issue. It is because even though separatism remains negligible at this stage, it doesn’t mean the government would sit on the sidelines and allow it to grow unchecked.

In fact, it is of the utmost importance for our incoming leader to get her priorities right and continue to keep things in proportion over the “growth” of separatism. Magnifying the issue would do more harm than good.

As a matter of fact, the entire separatism farce would probably never have taken place if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hadn’t taken pains to draw public attention to the subject in his policy address and then build up a massive hype surrounding this false proposition.

The result of his act has proven catastrophic: not only did secession from the mainland, an idea that no one has ever taken seriously in the past, suddenly become a legitimate subject of public discussion, it has also aroused Beijing’s grave concerns and triggered its heavy-handed reaction.

Even Chris Patten, the last British colonial governor of Hong Kong who was once denounced by Beijing as “the sinner of the millennium”, has also realized that separatism is nothing but a dead end and urged the people of Hong Kong to be more realistic and stay focused more on fighting for democracy rather than dreaming about seceding from China.

In conclusion, the declining public support for separatism will not only facilitate dialogue between Beijing and the moderate pan-democrats so as to break the current deadlock over political reform, but can also help put an end to this meaningless argument so that our society can move on and get down to real issues.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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