Posted: April 12, 2016
Back in the day they called it “consciousness-raising.” That was way back … in the anti-Vietnam War 1970s. Here and now, Hong Kong activists say they’ve been trying to sound a wake-up call and in that they are succeeding.
The post-2014 debate over Hong Kong’s political future that has followed in the wake of the 2014 Occupy/Umbrella protest is why it should not be dismissed as a “failure” (Mar. 31 post). Beijing refused to grant any concessions on its restrictive mainland-style election reform mandate. But the political soul-searching that went on before, during, after, and ever since has expanded the local debate about Hong Kong’s future in ways that didn’t exist before. Suddenly everyone is talking about a range of possibilities that no one had ever felt the need to think much about: localism, self-determination, independence, and the multiple shades of autonomy. And “everyone” includes Beijing.
All of this separatist talk started a few years ago around the time Horace Chin Wan-kan began publishing his ideas on Hong Kong’s possible future as an autonomous city-state ( Mar.3, 2015 post) . Raymond Wong Yuk-man and his Civic Passion 【熱血公民】friends gained some publicity for themselves when they tried putting the ideas to use … first in 2014 and again last year (June 5, 2015 post) . This they did by refusing to join the annual Victoria Park vigil. The vigil commemorates Beijing’s crackdown on its own, 1980s, democracy movement by using the army to clear Tiananmen Square of protesters on the night of June 3-4, 1989.
Hong Kong’s latter-day anti-June Fourth dissenters were saying, in effect, that the mainland and its democracy movement had nothing to do with them. Our first concern, they declared, should be to build democracy in Hong Kong itself. Going back to 1989 and the years before, Hong Kong’s democracy activists had always seen themselves as being, along with Taiwan and the mainland’s own tentative explorations, part of Greater China’s search for democratic alternatives. After 1989, however, the mainland’s political explorations stagnated.
Governance remains rigid in its adherence to old-fashioned communist one-party rule. All other possibilities and their promoters are treated as prodigal outliers who must eventually be made to return home to the Motherland.
Hence Beijing didn’t realize when it refused to give an inch … during Hong Kong’s big 2014 electoral reform controversy … that a kind of watershed moment was being created. Beijing’s two key hardline declarations in this respect were its June 2014 White Paper laying down the official line on Hong Kong’s governing structure (June 12, 2014 post), and the August 31, 2014 decision on electoral reform (Sept. 1, 2014 post) .
Hong Kong’s democracy movement had since the mid-1980s grown up around the promise of universal suffrage elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and its Legislative Council. But Beijing had used one delaying tactic after another until they ran out of excuses. The 8.31 decision decreeing a mainland-style managed election for Chief Executive was all Hong Kong was going to get. Its Occupy/Umbrella movement grew from that misunderstanding about Beijing’s intentions and from them has emerged a new skepticism about all of Beijing’s promises that were made to ease Hong Kong’s transition from British to Chinese rule.
The Civic Party’s new 10-year anniversary manifesto states the problem clearly enough (Mar. 31 post). A decade ago we still believed Hong Kong would have the autonomous space necessary to govern ourselves in accordance with our own values, they wrote. That’s what they thought Beijing’s “one-country, two-systems” promise was supposed to mean. Now they’ve concluded otherwise. Henceforth they’ll behave differently. Hong Kong’s concerns should come first.
THE CIVIC PARTY PLUS
Hong Kong’s worries and concerns must come first until Beijing gets the point: mainland political ways can’t be imposed here without resistance because the Civic Party is not alone. It’s actually the least of Beijing’s worries since these are suddenly sprouting in many different more radical shapes and sizes.
Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang explained its thinking during a televised interview (TVB, April 5). He said the aim in adopting localist … Hong Kong first … logic is to contribute to the growing debate and prevent its being monopolized by others. Because others have begun thinking the unthinkable, namely, independence. That would be Beijing’s absolute red line and the Civic Party’s as well.
The watershed moment that Beijing created with its 2014 ultimatum has thus pushed the boundaries of Hong Kong’s political spectrum toward more radical alternatives. If that trend takes hold, the Civic Party will represent the moderate face of Hong Kong’s democratic demands that Beijing will eventually have to consider.
The old Democratic Party has declared a similar stand. We are for self-determination, says Democratic Party chair Emily Lau, but not independence (TVB, Mar. 22).*
Even old-time rabble rouser “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung will no doubt fall into this category given what he and his League of Social Democrats successor, Avery Ng Man-yuen, have had to say about the new breed of Civic Passion and Hong Kong Indigenous hardliners (Apple, Feb. 22, Mar. 29).
Ronny Tong may have quit the Civic Party too soon in his impatient search for a moderate “third” way!
But for now, Beijing is confronting the new “moderation” in its old-fashioned way … by pretending to see no difference between Dennis Kwok’s localism and the new demands that want more. These have taken off with the formation of a host of new post-Occupy groups and candidate teams eager to exploit the opportunities provided by the coming campaign season.
The Legislative Council election and Chief Executive selection will be held later this year (Sept. 4) and early next (March 26), respectively.
All last week attention was riveted on what seems to be essentially a one-man band with a grand name. It calls itself the Hong Kong National Party 【香港民族黨】and was proclaimed at a March 28 press conference by its convener Chan Ho-tin 【陳浩天】. He claims the group has 30-50 members and is self-financing.
Chan is a recent engineering graduate from Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University. He was an Occupy activist and among those agitating for the beak-up of the all-university Hong Kong Federation of Students citing its Occupy leadership failures (Mar. 3, 2015 post) .
Chan says staging marches and shouting slogans is useless. He regards Beijing as the new colonial power and wants Hong Kong to be able to have a normal life. Toward that end he advocates repudiating the Basic Law that Beijing promulgated for Hong Kong and establishing an independent Hong Kong republic. He agrees with Hong Kong Indigenous leader Edward Leung in saying violence is O.K. when all else fails (Ming Pao, Mar. 29; Harbour Times, Mar. 30).
That was last week. This week all eyes are on two other new groups announced on April 10. Joshua Wong Chi-fung, famous for his leading roles in both the 2012 anti-national political studies campaign and Occupy, is now old enough to vote. He and his former middle school classmates want to move on to the next stage and have disbanded their original Scholarism resistance group. They are replacing it with a new political party to contest elections. Street demonstrations are no longer enough, says Wong.
They call their party Demosisto, a name they coined, derived from Greek and Latin. It can be translated as standing for democracy, popular resistance, or will of the people, which is what their Chinese name says【香港眾志】.
The new group is positioning itself in the “moderate radical” range. It doesn’t advocate violence or independence. But in Beijing’s eyes it’s doing something just as bad. The party will agitate for a referendum to be held in 10 years’ time. This will allow Hong Kong voters themselves to choose what kind of government they want after 2047, when the 50-year promise of Hong Kong’s current one-country, two-systems relationship with Beijing is due to expire.
One of the choices will be self-determination. Others: whether to continue with the current one-country, two-systems arrangement or opt for one-country, one-system full integration.
But whatever the options, Beijing adamantly opposes referendums since they are a form of direct democracy, which implies popular sovereignty, which is antithetical to one-party rule.
An “older” group of young Occupy veterans had already formed themselves into a campaign team last year. They call it Youngspiration in English, New Youth Politics in Chinese 【青年新政】. Their expansion to include five other small Occupy groups was announced on April 10. The original idea was to keep the spirit of Occupy alive by contesting elections and its few novice candidates surprised everyone by the number of votes they won in last November’s District Council elections.
They hope to repeat their success as an alliance and have made self-determination for Hong Kong the leading demand of their joint campaign manifesto. They distinguish between self-determination and independence but want independence to be an option to consider in the popular referendum they too want to hold. They say Beijing’s growing encroachment on Hong Kong’s core values means Hong Kong must be given a choice but they don’t want to wait 10 years to hold the vote. The sooner the better, they say given the stepped up pace of Beijing’s interventions.
A fourth new alliance of young and not-so-young localist radicals was announced right after the New Territories East by-election, inspired by the success of Hong Kong Indigenous leader Edward Leung Tin-kei. He received over 66,000 votes fresh off of his Lunar New Year call to violence in Mong Kok. The Civic Party’s candidate won anyway despite fears the two pro-democracy candidates would split the vote and throw the election to their common pro-Beijing rival (Mar. 2 post).
This new campaign team will combine the localist forces of Hong Kong Indigenous, Hong Kong city-state godfather Horace Chin, Raymond “Mad Dog’ Wong Yuk-man, and Civic Passion.
All of a sudden there are too many campaign teams chasing too few seats. But that’s a problem for tomorrow. Today they’re celebrating the regeneration of a political movement that owes its growth to all that has gone before.
HELPING BEIJING RE-THINK AUTONOMY
Dennis Kwok says Beijing must review its Hong Kong policy. He’s right. There will be no peace here otherwise. But it will be a long walk back from where they are in Beijing to where Hong Kong campaigners want to be.
The coming election campaign that’s gearing up for a major community debate on cross-border separatism and mainland interference will help Hong Kongers think about what they want and maybe help move the mountain in Beijing as well. But for now, policy-makers there remain locked in their rigid party-rule mindset. For them, anything other than obedience signifies “independence,” which in turn signifies sedition, subversion, secession, treason. There is no in-between.
Everything from the Civic Party’s localism to Horace Chin’s autonomy to Joshua Wong’s 2047 referendum counts the same as the demand for an independent republic. All are lumped together and thrown into the same bag along with Taiwan’s independence movement and the Tibetans as well. Perverse outliers all bent on tearing apart the fabric of unified one-party rule.
Illustrating the distance to be bridged, loyalists were aghast at the thought of a Hong Kong independence party. Just what they had always feared by allowing Hong Kong so much latitude. It must be stopped, they declared, nipped in the bud before it has a chance to blossom. … A tumor that must be excised before it infects others … The party must be banned.
Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office issued a statement saying the mere suggestion of such a party endangered China’s sovereignty and security to say nothing of Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. A serious violation of China’s constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law (Wen Wei Po, Mar. 31)
Free speech, retorted Hong Kong pro-democracy defense lawyers. Advocating independence is not the same a taking concrete actions to try and achieve it. Zhang Xiaoming, head of Beijing’s Hong Kong liaison office, didn’t buy it. The new party went beyond the pale, beyond free expression, he said. It must not be allowed (Ming Pao, Mar. 31, Apr. 1).
Even the Civic Party’s new mild-mannered anniversary manifesto is tantamount to a demand for independence (Ta Kung Pao, Mar. 17). Actually, a naked declaration of independence (TKP, Mar. 16).
Joshua Wong with his plan for a referendum on Hong Kong post-2047 is guilty of splitting the nation (TKP, Apr. 7). Accosted by an angry loyalist during a radio talk-show, Wong was challenged to say that by giving voters a choice in his referendum he was actually advocating independence … and violating his Chinese birthright. If you allow Hong Kongers to vote, said the angry old man, then you must allow all of China to vote against them!
Still, there must be no little consternation in high places. No sooner is one perverse Hong Kong idea denounced than another appears, and then another and another. They must be stopped but they cannot be at least not now, because Hong Kong is not yet part of the unified mainland security system.
There are only the barest hints of any re-thinking in Beijing. But since Hong Kongers themselves have only just begun to realize that their present one-country, two-systems political life style is in jeopardy, Beijing can’t be expected to acquiesce without more struggle.
Beijing’s new point man here, Wang Zhenmin, is a Basic Law authority and has just been assigned from Beijing to head the legal department at the liaison office. No doubt his mission is to correct the “misconceptions” that have crept into Hong Kong’s understanding of Beijing’s Basic Law intentions. But his work has been cut out for him.
After attending a forum at the Chinese University he tried to answer questions about advocating Hong Kong independence. He offered the standard mainland response: we can say anything among ourselves in private, they always explain, but not in public. He said it would be O.K. to discuss independence among friends at a dinner party, for instance, but not in a large gathering with intent. That would be tantamount to sedition, maybe even treason.
How large is too big, queried the defense lawyers and how to measure intent? Civic Passion’s resident historian cited the Magna Carta saying, in effect, that by precedent and tradition people had the right to demand redress from oppressive rulers (SCMP, Apr. 9, 10).
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political party held a strategy session across the border in Shenzhen last weekend. Events of the past two months, including the party’s loss in the New Territories East by-election, were no doubt on the agenda. Again Wang Zhenmin was on hand to discuss matters such as independence and 2047. He did say, however, that the status of Hong Kong post-2047 is now open … a matter for discussion … even if independence is out of the question (SCMP, Apr. 11).
2047 is a new subject for cross-border discussion … marking the first tentative step toward a Beijing rethink on the subject of Hong Kong autonomy.
* TVB’s Straight Talk can be viewed on-line.
Posted by Suzanne Pepper on April 12, 2016.