Why can't we talk about independence?

March 16, 2016 14:16
Undergrad magazine is again in the sights of the government after it published an article about self-determination in its latest issue. The article discusses the notion of an independent Hong Kong after 2047. Photos: HKEJ, Undergrad

Hong Kong independence has once again become a topic of conversation after a student publication featured it in its latest issue.

Civic Party helped turn it into a political talking point by raising the importance of autonomy in the context of 2047, when Hong Kong fully reverts to Chinese sovereignty.

That is when the Basic Law and other agreements under the Sino-British Declaration, the basis of Hong Kong's 1997 handover to China, expire.

That is also more than 31 years out, a generation away and a distant future for older Hongkongers.

But for younger people who have the most at stake in that future, there's no time to lose to ensure the next phase of Hong Kong's political development.

Which is why such issues as self-determination and autonomy will remain in our consciousness even if we don't actually talk about them.

But why not? If we have been discussing autonomy, why can't we talk about independence?

Hong Kong people were already excluded from the Sino-British talks on their own future.

They want to make sure that this time around, their views will be heard.

Hong Kong's political class is not ready or willing to accept the fact that independence could be an option.

Realistically, that notion is a non-starter.

China will not allow it to flourish, let alone happen, and it will take a yeoman's job to get the Hong Kong government, with the pro-Beijing camp behind it, to let it enter the political mainstream.

Leung Chun-ying famously excoriated Undergrad magazine, the University of Hong Kong student publication in question, in his 2015 policy address for an article about self-determination. He accused it of inciting separatism.

Yesterday, he responded to Undergrad's latest issue as emphatically.

"It's 'common sense that Hong Kong will continue to be part of China after 2047 when the Basic Law guaranteeing the way of life in the Special Administrative Region is to expire," he said, adding that Hong Kong's capitalist system "should not and need not change" after 2047.

Leung's remarks are straight out of Beijing's playbook.

Chinese officials have repeatedly stressed that Hong Kong is part of China and that fact will not change, although they might allow certain rights and freedoms of its citizens beyond 2047.

And in case anyone is in doubt, they keep reminding us that independence is impossible.

Now comes Arthur Li, the HKU council chairman and not the biggest fan of Undergrad magazine, who is playing to our worst fears.

"Where will our fresh water come from? Where will our food come from?" he said.


Li's scaremongering shows his ignorance of how market economics work.

First of all, our water supply does not come free. We buy it from Guangdong under a commercial agreement.

Some of our food supply comes from the mainland but we also pay for it.

Second, the world is a marketplace of commodities and services.

If China does not want to sell food and water to us, someone else will come forward. 

That's not to mention that Hong Kong will soon have a desalination plant to turn sea water into fresh water.

When Singapore left the Malaysian Federation in the 1960s to go it alone, it didn't go thirsty or hungry.

They have kept their border open to allow the flow of goods.

The two countries have maintained a long-term water supply contract.

Li's argument is as implausible as the idea of Hong Kong independence.

And that is precisely the point.

We need to talk about these issues because we are being plied with ideas that don't make sense.

And we are being warned about certain "unmentionables" lest we provoke Beijing.

Yet, we are told at the same time that there's freedom of thought and free speech in Hong Kong.

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EJ Insight writer