Like it or not, young democrats are making a determined push

April 27, 2016 14:46
Nathan Law, 23, and Joshua Wong, 19, are seen in a rally outside a police station. The student activists have set up a new political party that advocates a referendum on Hong Kong's political future. Photo: Reuters

They are just twenty-somethings but that's not stopping them from launching ambitious plans to make their way into the local legislature through new political parties they founded.

Some want a referendum to delineate the post-2047 status, some favor nativism and curbing of links with the mainland, and there are even a few who are explicitly advocating Hong Kong independence.

Now, should we see these people as foolhardy and uppity youth, or should we deem them to be young democrats with a clear mind who dare to attempt the impossible?

One thing for sure is that older Hongkongers, typically worldly and timid, have now been left bewildered. Some believe separatism won’t command popular support, while others say that it is not the future of young activists that is at stake, it may be the well-being of the entire city.

Among the new-born political groups is Demosistō, whose chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung is just 23 years in age. When the British rule ended in 1997, he was just a babbling toddler.

I did a little digging online and learnt that Nathan's childhood hobbies included soccer, Japanese comics and video games. His academic record is rather mediocre, and he does a part-time job as a gaming commentator.

All those activities have nothing to do with politics, so exactly when and how did a political career began occupying the young lad’s mind?

Nathan became one of the five key figures of the Hong Kong Federation of Students in the 2014 Occupy movement. But after the failed protests, I had suggested that he and his peers should perhaps leave Hong Kong for a while for further studies and for reflection.

Before long, the student activists found that they were out of bounds in the mainland as Beijing revoked their home return permits.

However, as things turned out, the more they were squeezed, the stronger their revolt became.

Though Demosistō has had a bumpy start with many PR blunders, Nathan -- in a recent TVB interview -- was able to reel off with composure the party’s stance on self-determination, and pledged non-violent but firm action.

This makes me believe that having some new faces like Nathan, in a chamber filled with Beijing yes-men, may not be a bad idea when it comes to Legco.

Rebellion is the common trait of all youth. My only concern is that the young democrats are still wet behind the ears and are not aware of the whirlpool of intrigues and gossip in politics, and also that they may not want to draw lessons from the elders.

They may jump to decisions without giving too much thought to the cost and consequences.

That said, we must acknowledge that the young people haven't lost their stamina despite the Occupy setback. After a good showing in the New Territories East by-election earlier this year, the new groups are aiming to secure Legco seats this fall to make their voice heard in the chamber.

'Beijing is all calm'

That's the message from Ronny Tong Ka-wah following a trip to Beijing earlier this week. Tong quit his Legco seat last October to create a think tank 'Path of Democracy'.

Quite a few mainland law scholars, meanwhile, are stepping into the act after they found that Hong Kong's laws cannot deter people from talking about independence.

If the SAR government bows to the pressure and snuff out any speech that annoys Beijing, it will mark another realty check on the "one country, two systems".

Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has reiterated that sovereignty and territorial integrity are "matters of principle" and that his department may deal with the issue from the following legal perspectives — examining whether separatists are guilty of crimes under the Companies, Societies or Crimes ordinances or any other criminal clause.

One can only hope that the department makes a convincing case before pursuing any legal action.

Given that Yuen visits Beijing frequently, I wonder if he is making the trips just to report and take orders from the central government -- without bothering to explain to the party cadres the core values that Hong Kong needs to uphold.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 26.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal