Does banning the National Party put HK on a slippery slope?

September 27, 2018 08:30
Young people in Hong Kong now feel so much animosity towards the government and Beijing that they don’t even want to be identified as Chinese. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong stepped into uncharted terrain this week by banning a separatist party which advocates independence from China. By taking such unprecedented action, the government has put us in a legal and political minefield. It would therefore be wise for the government to tread carefully as it goes after the Hong Kong National Party.

I am among the many Hong Kong people baffled by the government’s sudden determination to ban the party. Few expected it. Many were not mentally prepared for it for the simple reason that people take for granted their right to peacefully speak their minds in our free society.

Aside from Beijing loyalists, many are unconvinced by Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu’s claim the National Party poses an imminent national security threat. Most people laugh off the tiny party and its convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin as pipe dreamers divorced from reality.

But Beijing sees things very differently from Hong Kong people. Where we see a loony group with no legs Beijing sees a bogeyman. Its modus operandi is to snuff out what it considers even the tiniest threat to the Communist Party, real or imagined. This is particularly true now that China is fighting what in effect is a cold war with the United States.

Beijing is spooked not only by the National Party itself, which it sees as a spark that could up light up a widespread independence movement, however implausible that seems to Hong Kong people. Beijing’s bigger concern is that foreign forces could use the party to threaten national security. That’s likely why it ordered our government to squash it.

When the police recommended in July that the party be banned, a coffin already awaited the National Party. It was just academic for the Security Bureau to give the party time to argue against being outlawed. Andy Chan can appeal to the Executive Council against the ban but that too is academic since Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor herself has spoken out against the party.

The real battleground will be in Hong Kong’s courts should the National Party choose to legally challenge the ban. Government lawyers have no doubt done their homework and believe they have an ironclad case. The Security Bureau further tightened its case for the ban by giving the National Party time to argue against it.

But Hong Kong’s fiercely independent judges don’t always rule in the way people expect, as recent rulings in politically-charged cases have shown. Few expected the Court of Final Appeal to overturn the jail sentences of activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and Alex Chow Yong-kang who effectively triggered the Occupy protest by storming government headquarters.

Legislator and barrister Dennis Kwok Wing-hang told the media he saw scant evidence the National Party did what it’s accused of. The security secretary admitted the party had not used violence but justified the ban in the name of national security, public safety, public order, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Many would agree with Kwok’s view by wanting to know how exactly the National Party’s childish behavior so far has threatened national security, public safety, public order, and the rights and freedoms of others. All the party has done so far is to talk gibberish about making Hong Kong an independent state without any roadmap whatsoever to achieve it.

I have said before independence is a fool’s dream. Many Hong Kong people are uncomfortable with Beijing’s tightening grip on us but the vast majority reject independence as a way to shield us against Beijing. They accept Hong Kong as a part of China and know it is impossible for us to exist as an independent state.

The government knows there is little likelihood of the independence movement taking root because public sentiment is overwhelmingly against it. So was it worth it for the government to make Hong Kong people fear for their own free speech rights just to ban a party that is in effect a fly without wings?

In announcing the ban, security secretary Lee saw the need to reassure Hong Kong people their freedoms are not at risk. This alone shows the government is well aware the ban has spooked the public. Many are already wondering who is next. Will the government now target activist groups that support self-determination, such as Demosistō?

Just saying Hong Kong people need not worry about lost freedoms isn’t enough. It is imperative for the government to show the people they have nothing to fear. We have in recent years been rocked by many political events that were once alien to us – the 2014 Occupy uprising, the 2016 Mong Kok riots, the government ousting of six opposition legislators, the disqualification of Legislative Council candidates, and now the banning of the National Party.

These bombshells have combined to drive a wedge into our society, particularly between the younger generations on one side and the government and Beijing on the other. Young people now feel so much animosity towards the government and Beijing that they don’t even want to be identified as Chinese, preferring to call themselves Hong Kong people instead.

Why do so many young people feel so divorced from the country more than 21 years after reunification even though they are ethnically Chinese? It is a paradoxical question with no easy answers. All sides are to blame for this painful situation.

The opposition insisted on so-called genuine democracy without giving due regard to Beijing’s concerns. Beijing refused greater democracy for Hong Kong without trying to understand the people’s aspirations for a genuine say in the electoral process as promised in the Basic Law.

Government incompetence led to unaffordable housing, stagnant wages, and a widening wealth gap which in turn caused young people to lose hope in the future. Their disillusionment with what they saw as an unfair society spawned radical politics, contempt for the local and Beijing governments, and an identity crisis which lit the fuse for the independence movement.

Hong Kong and Macau Affairs director Zhang Xiaoming last week urged Hong Kong’s young people to use the express railway to understand the country more. It should concern us that a top mainland official still feels the need to reach out to young Hong Kong people 21 years after reunification. I fear his words will fall on deaf ears.

China is rising but Hong Kong’s youths, born in a free society, find alien Beijing’s tight restrictions on the internet, political activities, free speech, and its Orwellian monitoring of the movements of citizens. Distressing as it is to say it but Beijing has an uphill battle winning the hearts and minds of Hong Kong’s younger generations.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.