Why Beijing is taking HK National Party seriously

March 31, 2016 14:21
Chan Ho-tin, convenor of the Hong Kong National Party, is advocating the creation of an independent republic. Photo: RTHK

Beijing appears to be sufficiently alarmed by the formation of Hong Kong National Party, which is advocating the creation of an independent republic and the repudiation of the Basic Law.

The SAR government promptly rejected the group's application for registration, warning that calling for independence is a violation of the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.

However, official condemnation of the group has only made it well-known over a period of just a few days after its establishment was announced on Sunday.

In fact, attacks on the group have fueled discussions about Hong Kong independence, prompting many people to consider the concept of independence as an option for the city as China tightens its grip on the territory.

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office strongly opposed any action related to Hong Kong independence, stressing that the Hong Kong SAR is part of the People's Republic of China under the Basic Law, and the principles of "one country two systems" and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy.

In an interview with the state-owned Xinhua news agency, the spokesperson said "an extremely small number of people" have formed a pro-independence group, "threatening the national sovereignty and safety, as well as Hong Kong's stability, prosperity and basic interest".

Such action, the spokesperson said, is "firmly opposed by all Chinese nationals, including some seven million Hong Kong people".

"It is also a serious violation of the country’s constitution, Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the relevant existing laws.”

The office said the SAR government would handle the matter according to the law, and praised it for refusing to register the group.

Also on Wednesday, the official Global Times dismissed the National Party's founders as "mere attention-seekers who want overnight fame".

The paper said the idea of Hong Kong becoming independent is "completely unrealistic", and called on Hong Kong people to simply ignore the group.

In a way, Beijing's reaction was completely understandable and expected.

In a place where there is no freedom of expression, where people have long lived under authoritarian rule, any concept that goes beyond the official line is considered treason, an outright rebellion.

But for Hong Kong people, the discussion of a topic such as Hong Kong independence should be protected by our laws. Hong Kong, after all, highly values its freedom of expression and thought.

That's why we find it quite strange for the administration of Leung Chun-ying to issue a statement echoing Beijing's official stance on the issue, warning that it "will take action according to the law".

However, the government did not say which law it is referring to.

Even local legislators said the government would be hard put to find an appropriate law to sue the National Party's members for advocating independence.

Beijing is correct in saying that Hong Kong National Party is only a small group.

Not only that, it is composed mostly of university students and other political neophytes, just like Youngspiration and Hong Kong Indigenous.

Though lacking in support from established politicians, these groups have proved their strong influence among the youth in the district council elections in November last year and the Legislative Council by-election for the New Territories East last month.

In the by-election, for example, Hong Kong Indigenous candidate Edward Leung was able to secure more than 15 percent of the votes.

What apparently worries Beijing and Hong Kong officials is the profile of his supporters, which could provide some insight into the possible outcome of the Legislative Council elections in September.

Data provided by the electoral office shows that Leung's votes mostly came from traditional public estates in Tseung Kwan O, Tai Po as well as the Northern District.

The top 10 polling stations where Leung secured the highest votes shared the same characteristic, which is the higher than average number of voters born after 1990.

For example, in the polling station of Sheung Tak Estate in Tseung Kwan O, voters born after 1990 accounted for 23.1 percent, while in other polling stations, they accounted for 12 percent.

That indicates that most of the supporters of radical democrats with independence leanings were first-time voters.

This means that most of the young voters have a tendency to support Hong Kong independence, and this is what Beijing authorities are most worried about.

However, Beijing's hard-line stance on the issue could only encourage more youngsters to register to be able to cast their votes in the September elections.

Based on the Edward Leung's 15 percent vote benchmark, it cannot be ruled out that radical young democrats can secure seats in the five geographical constituencies in Hong Kong, or five seats in total.

Hong Kong National Party may just be an appetizer in the emerging campaign for Hong Kong independence.

There is also a political party being formed by Scholarism stalwarts Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Oscar Lai, which will be announced in mid-April.

The new party has identified Hong Kong's future after 2047 as its key advocacy, which is probably another way of saying that they will focus on the issue of Hong Kong independence.

The three Scholarism stalwarts have deep experience in political struggle and enjoy massive support from the youth, so it is expected that their new party will be at the forefront of the discussion on independence.

It's highly likely that Beijing's stern warning against Hong Kong National Party is actually directed at Joshua Wong and his new party.

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EJ Insight writer