Reported by May Tam in Hong Kong
Translated by Chapman Chen
The independence of Hong Kong is reportedly the only solution for Hong Kong’s future after China openly disavowed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as discussed at a forum held on 1 July 2017, the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, which was organized by 14 tertiary student representative groups covering all universities in Hong Kong.
Speakers at the forum said that Hong Kong independence was the only way that could really protect Hongkongers’ basic human rights and ensure the success of their struggle for democracy. But they expected discussions about Hong Kong independence and street resistance in Hong Kong to be so suppressed that they would have to go underground in the future, and hence efforts are also needed to build a strong civic society in Hong Kong.
On the 1 July 2017 night when the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR Government), which is under Beijing rule, held a massive firework to celebrate the handover of Hong Kong to China for 20 years, about 300 students of Hong Kong higher institutions simultaneously attended a forum held at the University of Hong Kong which was organized by 14 student representative groups of the higher institutions, with the vast majority of the groups being student unions from all universities of Hong Kong.
The forum, themed “Seize Hong Kong’s Sovereignty against Foreign Invasion after Her Being Ravaged by Red Disasters for 20 Years”, had three guest speakers to attend, including Andy Chan Ho-tin, convener of Hong Kong National Party which advocates Hong Kong independence; the political commentator Lewis Loud supporting Hong Kong independence; Dr. Brian Fong Chi-hang, Associate Director of The Academy of Hong Kong Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong cum editor of the book On Hong Kong Reformation, who advocates self-autonomy for Hong Kong.
The forum began with a student representative reading aloud a statement, pointing out that in the last two decades under Communist China’s rule, Hong Kong was recolonized, and listing how Hong Kong suffered politically, economically and socially:
- Hong Kong lost its right of self-determination as early as in the 1970s when China joined the United Nations and demanded that Hong Kong be removed from the list of colonies.
- In the early 1980s, Britain and China negotiated over the future of Hong Kong in the absence of Hong Kong people on the negotiating table.
- During the last two decades, Communist China tried to redden Hong Kong and turn it into an ordinary city of China.
- The Hong Kong Government (be it the Governor under British colonial rule or the Chief Executive of the HKSAR today) is accountable to the suzerain concerned only.
- An enormous amount of Mainland Chinese people have been migrating from China to Hong Kong by way of one-way permit. Hong Kong people, with no control over the number and the types of these immigrants, are colonized by China.
- Hongkongers’ identity is subject to oppression. The HKSAR Government, which represents the China Communist Government in ruling Hong Kong, has been trying to instill a China-people identity into the mind of Hong Kong youngsters by way of national education and teaching in primary and secondary schools the Chinese language in Putonghua (the official Chinese spoken language) and the simplified Chinese written system (both imposed by the Chinese Communist Party on all Mainland Chinese), instead of most Hongkongers’ mother tongue, Cantonese , thereby disparaging it.
- Communist capital keeps invading Hong Kong, producing economic dependence. Red capitalists extensively purchase land in Hong Kong, forming a sophisticated profit network on the island.
The statement also points out that if Hongkongers continue to rely on the Basic Law and the “One country, two Systems” (which are the constitutional basis for the governance of Hong Kong laid down before 1997 with the bilateral agreement reached between China and Britain under the international treaty, Sino-British Joint Declaration), they will only end up destroying their own walls. It is because Communist China now does not even permit one country-two governments (one China with Beijing and Taiwan governments), such that Beijing will definitely try its best to destroy any advocacy that threatens its full power reign. Neither implementation of the Basic Law nor “one country, two systems” can be the answer to the “second negotiation” on Hong Kong’s future beyond 2047. Hongkongers must seek their way out beyond the framework of “one country, two systems”.
The day before this forum was held, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told China’s and overseas reporters in its regular press conference: “The Sino-British Joint Declaration is now merely a historical document and of no practical significance, nor are they binding on the Chinese central government’s administration of the HKSAR. The British side has no sovereignty over, no power to rule and supervise Hong Kong after the handover.”
As pointed out by Chan Ho-tin and Lewis Loud, both speakers at the forum, Hong Kong independence is now the only way out for Hong Kong after the above statement was made officially, indicating that China has already disavowed the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Loud asked, “By the same token, isn’t the Basic Law a ‘historical document’ too, which China may also disavow and refuse to abide by. What should Hongkongers do?”
Chan Ho-tin said that Hong Kong is now entirely a colony of China. The current political system is a replica of the British colonial system with no democratically elected government. “Communist China has now disavowed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and the peaceful assembly of the Hong Kong National Party advocating Hong Kong independence was banned on 30 June. The Party has no room for survival as the HKSAR Government has already rejected its application to register as a society. The new Chief Executive (CE), Mrs Carrie Lam, has already clearly stated that laws shall be locally enacted to give effect to Article 23 of the Basic Law (which forbids acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion of Beijing Government) … So I can expect my own space of activity in the future to be reduced to six feet times 12 feet in prison. Hong Kong independence is now the only way out for Hong Kong people,” said Chan.
The academic Dr. Brian Fong Chi-hang, who advocates Hong Kong self-autonomy, was asked why such a proposal would be the best direction for Hong Kong. “Nobody can tell which direction for Hong Kong is the best and most likely to succeed. Different camps should respect each other and work independently. I advocate autonomy because I think that in accordance with the current public opinion in Hong Kong, and the situation of China and the international community, this is the appeal that has got the greatest legitimacy and acceptance so far,” answered Fong.
Fong said that Beijing would react emotionally to Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong independence is the reaction of Hongkongers after losing confidence in Beijing completely, especially in view of what happened in the last couple of years, and such emotion is understandable.
He pointed out that the relationship between Hong Kong and China now may be described as “One Country, Two Nationalisms”. That is to say, China practises centralized nationalism whilst Hong Kong is prone to peripheral nationalism. In other words, by way of centralization, China tries to assimilate the special region as part of its nation. The stronger China’s force of assimilation, the stronger Hong Kong’s resistance.
Fong said that there are also such examples overseas, for instance Spain and Catalonia. Catalonia is an autonomous region of the former, but since 2010 the People’s Party of Spain has begun to restrict Catalonia’s autonomy and oppress it. For example, secondary and primary schools in Catalonia have been required to adopt Spanish as the medium of instruction and give up education in their mother tongue (Catalan). Catalonia then started its struggle for independence. The interaction between two nationalisms has resulted in a vicious cycle. The situation of Hong Kong is pretty similar. The year of 2003 is the turning point, before which Beijing relatively refrained from interfering in Hong Kong affairs. After the five hundred thousand people took to the street against the local legislation for Article 23 of Basic Law and against the former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2003, Beijing realized that Hongkongers were still very much anti-communist and their heart had not yet returned to China. It thus began to actively interfere in Hong Kong affairs, and Hongkongers have increasingly felt the pressure from China.
Fong thought that at present, autonomy is the most legitimate choice for Hong Kong’s future. Subsequently, the other two speakers explained their view on the legitimacy of Hong Kong independence as below.
Issue Discussed: On the Legitimacy of Hong Kong Independence
- If Hong Kong people agree that “one country, two systems” is just rhetoric and will not be actually implemented; and in this regard, if they also think that as long as Hong Kong does not quit China, Hong Kong’s basic human rights and democracy cannot be guaranteed even with the framework of “one country, two systems”, then Hong Kong independence has its legitimacy.
- Hongkongers are now an endangered community. For instance, its language and population are being vanished or dissolved. This constitutes the greatest legitimacy of Hong Kong independence. In contrast, the pan-democrats have no legitimacy to negate or oppose Hong Kong independence as a method to prevent the Hong Kong community from being destroyed.
Discussions then went on with the viewpoint that strive for democracy in Hong Kong would not be successful either, if Hong Kong independence was mission impossible.
Issue Discussed: On the possibility of success for Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy and Hong Kong independence
- If Hong Kong independence movement cannot possibly succeed, neither will the struggle for democracy be able to succeed. This is because, except for the lack of a democratic elected government and parliament, many conditions of Hong Kong already make it close to a country, for example, Hong Kong has its own border, its own language, its own culture, its own social system and judicial system. If even a democratically elected government and parliament were ready, then Hong Kong would 99% be a country. However, the ruling culture of the Chinese Communist Party places a premium on control. For example, in Mainland China, every single person, street and lane are strictly controlled. So China will not possibly allow Hong Kong to have such kind of high autonomy with a democratic government. And thus under “one country, two systems”, democracy can never be realized, unless China manages to completely control Hong Kong with nationalism. In other words, China will not give Hong Kong democracy, unless it has completely cleansed the population of Hong Kong, and make the new immigrants from China outnumber Hongkongers, so that even if Hong Kong has real universal suffrage, only pro-Beijing people will be elected.
- In view of the present situation, one can tell that Communist China will regard all democratic appeals in Hong Kong as attempts to split China. In its eyes, real universal suffrage IS Hong Kong independence.
- Someone says that strategically, democracy rather than Hong Kong independence should be discussed and pursued. But how democratic can such “democracy” as attained in this way be when this kind of “democracy” is given by Beijing?
- Someone says that Hong Kong independence advocators have neither a road map nor a time schedule, but since the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, the struggle for democracy has had no road map or time schedule, either.
- Someone would say people of Hong Kong do not agree with Hong Kong independence and recent surveys have already shown that the support for this has dropped. However, those supporting Hong Kong independence at heart may not dare to tell the truth when interviewed, because they may think it impossible to achieve as well as fear about the disclosure of their political stance would lead to troubles, such as being denied jobs by employees. Such fear has been spreading, which leads to self-censorship in personal speech.
Issue Discussed: On “Democratic Self-determination” as an Option for Hong Kong’s Future
- Self-determination advocators do not have a clear political stance of their own. They object to Hong Kong independence, and hence the final result of self-determination would only be a return to “one country, two systems”. And then they would say to Communist China, “Please keep your promise.”
- I do not understand what is meant by democratic self-determination . In accordance with the International Covenant on Political Rights, all peoples with a strong identity and border are entitled to the right of self-determination. Thus an ethnic group has first to build a strong sense of identity and subject consciousness before it can enjoy the right of self-determination. Those who advocate democratic self-determination have to clarify who will be engaged in self-determination? The 1.4 billion people of China or the 7 million people of Hong Kong?
Issue Discussed: On Hongkongers as Second-class Chinese
- Communist China regards Hongkongers as impure Chinese. Because they had been colonized by the British, they are impure in terms of both blood and culture. They have been contaminated by the evil customs of the West or Britain, thus they have to learn the “orthodox” language and study in “orthodox” Chinese (Putonghua, the official Chinese language adopted by Beijing Government among a multitude of Han languages). Hongkongers need to be purified. Even Jasper Tsang Yuk-shing (the former President of Hong Kong Legislative Council after 1997, founder and former Chair of Hong Kong’s leading Pro-Beijing political party, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, abbreviated as DAB) is unable to enter the central political committee of the Communist China.
- In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, Hongkongers are second-class citizens. Rigidly adhering to the “orthodox”, Beijing has a model concerning what is Chinese, and it regards Hongkongers who were colonized by the British as impure “cocktail”. The impurity is also due to the fact that Hong Kong people have not experienced such tyrannical rule as by Chairman Mao Zedong, in Cultural Revolution and during the three-year hardships, because trauma could be part of the orthodox, too. However, the younger generation of Hong Kong are unaffected by the China-people identity discourse. They think that Hong Kong is a unique entity; their self-identity is just so simple.
Issues Discussed: On Forecast about Hong Kong’s Future and Imagination about the Ways out
- The future is bleak: Article 23 of the Basic Law banning secession and subversion will be implemented through local legislation; The Hong Kong National Party will lose all room for survival; Hongkongers striving for Hong Kong independence will be either arrested or persecuted or vanished by death or exile.
- Street resistances will fade out, and university campuses will become the last fortress of freedom. Most progressive theories and thoughts will be brewed there, which will be the only way of survival for the pro-independence camp.
- Secret societies and underground organizations will appear in Hong Kong.
- Resources of activists will need foreign support.
- The success of activists relies on the general public. Hongkongers have to “compete with Communist China in terms of longevity”, and “those are able to laugh at the end of the day would win”.
- It will be very difficult to struggle for democracy. Various anti-communist camps (the self-determination camp, the independence camp and the pan-democrats) will come closer and closer; the democrats will come close to the segregationists.
- It is inadvisable for localist or pro-independence students to thrust past police lines of defense in protests because they do not have good support like the pan-democrats. If they do so, they will definitely be arrested, and no one will employ them in the future.
- Hong Kong’s future can no longer rely on public figures, for they will be subject to a lot of restraints. Hong Kong needs a lot of people to work in silence. The most important people are not those on the stage, but those who work quietly, keeping a low profile, for example, those who regularly visit activists put in jail.
- There is no longer any room for activism within the establishment. Anyone trying to do so will lose miserably, just like Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who are required to return HK$1.86 million (US$14.508 million) of salaries and allowances paid to them for their LegCo position.
- Quietly liaison with the international community to gain their support.
- In the future, the power of civic society is very important. Resistance should not only be focused on politics and statutory institutions like the District Council and the LegCo, even though it may still be necessary to fight for seats there. Instead, resistance should be focused on building community capacity. For example, Hong Kong in its 1970s, there were a lot of civic groups, such as Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) and the Society for Community Organization (SOCO), which accumulated power for our civic society, so that when the political system became open in the 1980s, these activists were elected into the establishment. In the past, oppositionists of Czech also operated through school organizations or opera classes. Only in this way can social networks recover the energy of Hong Kong civil society and bring hope.
- It is expected in the coming five years, Beijing’s policy towards Hong Kong will not change. The new CE Carrie Lam is not going to alter the old route of the HKSAR Government who has been seen to perpetually toe the Beijing line.
- Hong Kong people must build a strong sense of identity and subject consciousness.
The 14 Hong Kong Tertiary Student Representative Groups Organized the Forum are:
City University of Hong Kong Students’ Union
Hang Seng Management College Students’ Union
Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Students’ Union
Lingnan University Students’ Union
Students’ Union of Chu Hai College of Higher Education
Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi) Students’ Union
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts Students’ Union
The Education University of Hong Kong Students’ Union
The Open University of Students’ Union
The Hong Kong University Students’ Union
The Students’ Union of Hong Kong Shue Yan University
The Students’ Union of The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Federation of Students