18 April 2019
A picture (R) shows a leaflet prepared by the Hong Kong National Front calling for Hong Kong independence. Photo: Hong Kong National Front/Facebook
A picture (R) shows a leaflet prepared by the Hong Kong National Front calling for Hong Kong independence. Photo: Hong Kong National Front/Facebook

Why did some groups renew the independence calls now?

As Beijing seeks to tighten its grip over Hong Kong and foster nationalism among local youth, two groups have announced a new pro-independence campaign that will target the student community.

According to Student Localism, one of the entities behind the plan, leaflets and other material will be distributed outside the gates of secondary schools and universities to promote the idea of Hong Kong breaking away from China.

“Hong Kong independence is a far away goal, which adults and students have to fight for. The future belongs to us, the young generation,” the organization wrote on its social media page. “We will be Hong Kong’s masters; we will wake more sleeping students up.”  

The government cannot suppress an ideal, it said, adding that “suppression will only make the flame of independence burn stronger.”

Now, the campaign, as well as its timing, leaves us wondering as to what exactly the groups hope to achieve, given that similar initiative a year ago at local schools failed to gain traction.

Does it have anything to do with an upcoming trip to Hong Kong by a senior Chinese official who will speak at a function in relation to the 20th anniversary celebrations of the city’s handover to China?

Student Localism and the Hong Kong National Front, the co-organizer of the latest campaign, said they will revive the self-rule call with new vigor by roping in students from many secondary schools and tertiary institutions. 

Explaining their reasons, the groups cited, among other things, the spread of patriotic education in local schools, and the use of Mandarin as a teaching medium for Chinese.

The groups said they will provide support to students who wish to take part in the campaign. A photo posted on their websites showed a flyer bearing this message: “The only way to protect Hong Kong is independence”.

On Tuesday, the campaign was flagged off, with students handing out leaflets near the gates of about 20 educational institutions in the city. 

Responding to the developments, the Education Bureau said calls for independence violate the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.

Schools have enough experience in dealing with the political issues, it said, adding that it expects the institutions to handle the matter in a professional manner.

Anyway, authorities don’t need to worry too much as the truth is that most students are not too enamored by the independence advocacy campaigns. 

Last month, independence banners and posters appeared on some college campuses, but they met with not-too-enthusiastic response from most students, who deemed the activity as just a passing event.

This is not to say that the students do not have strong feelings about Hong Kong’s need to stand up for its rights and freedoms, and to resist Beijing’s growing interference in the city’s affairs.

Most young people in the city harbor deep suspicions about the Communist rulers across the border and want Hong Kong to stay as far away as possible from Beijing.

The anger toward mainland authorities is, however, accompanied by the realization and acceptance that breaking away from China is no realistic or practical goal.

The students are aware that independence calls among opposition political groups have been dead for some time now.

Disqualification of two pro-independence lawmakers, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, over alleged offenses during an oath-taking ceremony last year in the Legco has made the opposition camp wary.

Edward Leung of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, for one, has abandoned his previous rhetoric advocating Hong Kong independence.

Even Demosisto, the political party co-founded by student leader Joshua Wong, has cut back on its comments on political issues and is now focusing on community services to win the trust of the general public.

Against this backdrop, the latest high-profile initiative by Student Localism and the Hong Kong National Front is surprising to say the least.

Also, the timing raises a question as to what could be the possible motive.  

From the looks of it, it seems the groups took up the campaign now only because of the impending visit of Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Li, who chairs the Basic Law Committee, is making a trip to Hong Kong this week and is scheduled to speak at a seminar here.

During the event, he is expected to elaborate on remarks made by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Communist Party congress last month on China’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong. 

Li has been invited to deliver a speech on Hong Kong’s role and its mission under the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law. The forum, on Thursday, will also feature an expert panel on Hong Kong’s development under “One Country, Two Systems”.

Among his other engagements, the mainland official, according to reports, will visit the under-construction West Kowloon terminus that will serve the upcoming high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

There is speculation that Li will use the trip to endorse the Hong Kong government’s plan to kick off the legislation process for the so-called co-location arrangement, which will see mainland border control officials operating on Hong Kong soil.

With Student Localism and the Hong Kong National Front reviving their pro-independence campaign just ahead of the Li trip, what is their real objective?

Are they merely trying to ensure maximum publicity and boost their public profile, or is there something more to this than meets the eye?

We can only wait and watch.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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