(Eng. full version below)
English summary (by Chapman Chen):
There are now in Hong Kong three different pro-democracy groups. First is the Veteran Democrats, represented by the Democratic Party and the Civic Party. Second is a loose association of younger people from various groups that identify with the political platform of self-determination for Hong Kong, represented by Demosistō which sprang up during the 2012 Anti-National Education Campaign. Third are the full-blown independence advocates, who emerged in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution and 2016 Fishball Revolution. They are now without a visible leader.
The Old Democrats espouse a clear Chinese national identity, rejects self-determination and independence, and would only fight for political reform in Hong Kong strictly according to the Basic Law as they interpret it, in ways that are “peaceful, rational and non-violent in words and deeds”. The Self-determinationists do not take an open stance on national identity, and various member groups exhibit different degrees of social-democratic outlook. The Independence advocates, often known as Localists, are also mostly young adults, who consider the fight for secession from China as holding a higher priority over social or class justice. They renounce the very idea of a Chinese people living in a unified China. This group is not against an alliance with the local business sector which is being edged out by red capitalists. The Veteran Democrats suspect certain advocates of self-determination and independence are trolls paid by the Chinese communists to give them excuses to brutally oppress the HK opposition camp. The harsh long sentences slapped on pro-independence leaders such as Edward Leung debunked this myth. (There are always such trolls, but they do not prove that the whole movement is a ploy of Beijing.)
According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the one country two systems in HK will expire in 2047, when most probably Hong Kong will be completely absorbed into the Chinese system and treated much worse than “any other Chinese city” by Beijing because there is such an horrendous amount of anti-communist, anti-Chinese, freedom-loving malcontents among the Hongkongers. But for the leadership core of the Veteran Democrats, 2047 is too far off, and they fail to feel the fear, anger and anguish of the young Hongkongers. Who are we to tell the young people to love their motherland, to preserve the unity of the Chinese people in their fight for democracy, when it will be Chinese officials from the Chinese state, exercising the full power of Chinese law, that will eventually deliver their political death sentence? After all, 2047 is not for most of the Veteran Democrats to face.
Henry Jackson Society talk, London
LIAN Yi Zheng
I will look at the topography of the pro-democracy camp, point out its fissures and the reasons leading to such, and suggest ways to heal the crack lines, if possible. With more understanding, concerned individuals in the international community could perhaps lend a helping hand too.
First Significant Crack
The first significant crack on the surface appeared in 2010. That year the then radical group League of Social Democrats (LSD) and the more moderate Civic Party, joined hands in forcing a de facto referendum on the issue of full democracy for Hong Kong. China had adamantly opposed any formal referendum, but the LSD-Civic Party alliance bypassed that obstacle by having five legislators, one from each of the electoral districts, to simultaneously resign, thereby triggering a city-wide by-election; their common platform would then proxy the question in a referendum on full and immediate democratic electoral reform. The other major pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, declined to participate; the two pro-Beijing parties boycotted the whole thing. So, even though the “general by-election” went forward and all the five resigned legislators got re-elected, turnout was a paltry 17%, and the effort also failed. After this, the Democratic Party and the radicals parted ways.
The Rise of Demosisto
Frustrated with the total failure on political reform and angered by ever increasing interference by Beijing in Hong Kong affairs, a separatist sentiment appeared. It was strengthened by a separate series of daring and successful demonstrations in 2012 that stopped a communist brainwashing subject being introduced into public schools. The demonstrations were organized by some secondary school students who now form the backbone of Demosisto, which advocates self determination for Hong Kong via referendum.
In the same year, student leaders at the Hong Kong University published a book putting forward the notion that Hongkongers, separated from China since 1842 and who had never been ruled by either the Republican Chinese government of 1911-1949, or the Communist government of 1949 to this day, are now a people culturally distinct from the Chinese and deserving a politically separate, independent state, in much the same way that descendants of the Mayflower pilgrims in colonial America deserved independence from Britain.
The Rise of Independence Advocates
Shy and hesitant at first in advocating independence, this line of thinking eventually precipitated a number of hardened pro-independence groups coming out from the vortices of the great but ultimately futile Occupy Movement, otherwise known as the Umbrella Revolution, of 2014. These groups regard the understanding between the pre-1997 democrats and China, summarized in four Chinese words 民主回歸， meaning “democracy in exchange for reversion (of loyalty)”, amounted to a sellout, with the Hong Kong people being defrauded – sovereignty was returned but no democracy was given. The Democratic Party, home to most pre-1997 democrats, disputed the claim as simplistic.
But this group of young separatists suffered huge setback after the Legislature elections in 2016 when several of their winning candidates were banned from taking up seats in the Legislature. Some of their organizations were tattered after several of their leaders who took part in a violent confrontation with the police in an event in early 2016 were either put in jail to serve years-long sentences or went into exile. But while their support as shown in polls plummeted, their motto, Hong Kong Is Not China, gained currency. Hitherto a term that could only be whispered in fear and with a certain amount of guilt, is now a household phrase, totally de-stigmatized.
Three different pro-democracy groups.
So now in the landscape are three different pro-democracy groups. First is what I call the Veteran Democrats, represented by the Democratic Party and the Civic Party and a number of fringe groups somewhat more radical in style. Second is a loose association of younger people from various groups that identify with the political platform of self-determination for Hong Kong, of which Demosistou is the most coherent, organizationally and in terms of its political program. Third are the full-blown independence advocates, now without a visible leader but for which the mere term Gong Doog (shorthand in cantonese meaning Hong Kong Independence) is an effective rallying point.
The Old Democrats espouse a clear Chinese national identity, rejects self-determination and independence, and would only fight for political reform in Hong Kong strictly according to the Basic Law as they interpret it, in ways that are “peaceful, rational and non-violent in words and deeds”.
The Self-determinationists do not take an open stance on national identity, and various member groups exhibit different degrees of social-democratic outlook. Some of them are anti-capitalism as much as they are anti-Beijing.
The Independence advocates, often known as Localists, are also mostly young university students, recent graduates or young adult in their twenties or thirties, and they consider the fight for secession from China as holding a higher priority over social or class justice. They renounce the very idea of a Chinese people living in a unified China, regarding it as imperialistic fiction and oppressive of all non-Han peoples on China’s peripheries. So, they also openly support the independence movements in Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and the secession of Inner Mongolia. This group is not against an alliance with the business sector, especially that part which is coming under the threat of Red Capital, ie, Chinese enterprises operating in Hong Kong as powerful competitors.
Currently, there is a lot of chill and almost zero political dialogue between Old Democrats and Independence advocates, but a certain degree of contact and coordination exists between the Independence advocates and the Self-determinationists.
What the Veteran Democrats think of the Localists
The Veteran Democrats think advocacy of self-determination and independence blurs the central objective of political reform, and invites brutal oppression from Beijing to the detriment of everyone in the opposition. The other two groups, on the other hand, do not believe democracy can be achieved under the current One-Country-Two-Systems formula in which all political authority ultimately rests with Beijing. The Independence advocates regard the Veteran Democrats’ patriotic position on the Chinese identity question will ultimately lead to their capitulation to a nationalist Beijing, and for proof they point to the examples of prominent leaders of the Democratic Party easily relinquishing their Party membership and becoming policy secretaries in the Hong Kong SAR government with Beijing’s approval.
The more recent poll numbers show a drop in the support rate for the separatist movements, but they may be inaccurate as people sympathetic towards them would hesitate to say so when answering poll calls from strangers. Who knows if the caller is not from some security apparatus controlled by Beijing? In fact, from my own pulse-taking of the sentiments of the Hong Kong people – not just younger people, I believe the two separatist groups are the only significant political growth business in town.
The harsh long sentences slapped on pro-independence leaders such as Edward Leung debunked the myth that they were trolls paid by the Chinese communists to split the democratic camp. Don’t get me wrong – there are always such trolls, but they do not prove that the whole movement is a ploy of Beijing, which for a long time has been the favorite conspiracy theory among Veteran Democrats. And I have sensed that more and more hitherto patriotic democrats have become more tolerant of the separatist sentiments.
But to bridge the gap between the groups, one must first understand the gap. Apparently there is a generation gap there, but it is not one primarily defined by age. Rather, it is more because the agreement struck between China and the UK in 1984 has a strong element of political predestination for the current cohorts of younger people: the quasi-open society, quasi-democratic polity that is Hong Kong under the 1c2s system would formally end in 2047, and although what would happen after that was not spelled out in the agreement, it is highly likely that Hong Kong will be completely absorbed into the Chinese system and treated much worse than “any other Chinese city” by Beijing because there is such an horrendous amount of anti-communist, anti-Chinese, freedom-loving malcontents among the people. But for the leadership core of the Veteran Democrats, 2047 is too far off. This is not to say that the Veteran Democrats show no empathy towards the younger cohorts as their fate draws ever nearer; after all, their children and grand children all belong to these cohorts. But the sensibilities are naturally quite different, and in my judgment the Veteran Democrats do not feel the fear, anguish and anger of the younger cohorts with the same intensity. This structural element in the generational gap is built in by Hong Kong’s political history and largely explains the emergence of radical separatism among the younger cohorts but which is largely ignored at best by the Veteran Democrats.
But this is not to disparage the Veteran Democrats. They have made important contributions if only for their persistence of keeping the dream of democracy alive. In fact, their effort in sustaining the movement also nurtured the political consciousness of the younger cohorts and most of them would readily acknowledge that.
And yes, there were bad mistakes committed by the Independence advocates, but most of the adherents that I’m familiar with have been on the amend, and probably all the nasty older guys among them have left the movement or have been rejected by the younger members.
Who are we to tell the young people to love their motherland?
There are certainly many fences to mend on both sides, but I opine that the Veteran Democrats are the ones that ought to walk the extra mile. They are the more experienced, more mature and much better resourced. And, after all, 2047 is not for most of the Veteran Democrats to face. Indeed, who are we to tell the young people to love their motherland, to preserve the unity of the Chinese people in their fight for democracy, when it will be Chinese officials from the Chinese state, exercising the full power of Chinese law, that will eventually deliver their political death sentence?