Formation of Hong Kong National Party is the latest sign that China is losing Hong Kong’s young

Gary Cheung says recent poll and survey results show an increasing number of young Hongkongers want nothing to do with the mainland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 1:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 1:36pm

At the height of the 1967 riots, the colonial government feared Beijing would cut off Hong Kong’s water and food supplies from the mainland. It sent missions to Japan and South Korea to explore the possibility of buying food there, but did not pursue the idea further after it realised Beijing had no intention of suspending food supplies to the city. At the time, 60 per cent of our food was imported from the mainland. The proportion has risen since then.

Last week, a group of Hongkongers calling themselves the Hong Kong National Party say they would not recognise the Basic Law and vow to use “whatever effective means” available to push for independence.

They and other advocates of Hong Kong independence are trying to do something the British government and the colonial administration considered 49 years ago a mission impossible – ignoring the mainland authorities and ensuring the city’s survival without mainland resources.

Unsurprisingly, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office slammed the establishment of the Hong Kong National Party as a threat to national security. It is clear Beijing won’t hesitate to get tough on those who cross the red line by calling for the city’s independence.

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For sure, advocates of Hong Kong independence do not represent the mainstream in the city. Nonetheless, Beijing would be foolish to take comfort in this fact, amid the growing sense of alienation among the city’s young people towards the mainland.

Time is running out for Beijing to win over the hearts and minds of the young

According to a tracking poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme, 43 per cent of 1,001 Hongkongers surveyed last month said they distrusted the central government, with the levels of distrust highest among the young; 75 per cent of those between 18 and 29 reported distrust, compared with 32 per cent among those aged 50 or above.

In another tracking poll carried out by the public opinion programme in December, just 13.3 per cent of respondents aged between 18 and 29 identified themselves as “Chinese” in a broad sense (those who consider themselves “Chinese” or “Chinese in Hong Kong”), compared with 35.9 per cent among those aged above 30. The proportion of young people who identified themselves as “Chinese” in a broad sense in the latest poll is substantially lower than the 41.2 per cent in a similar survey in June 2008.

It is also notable that a growing number of young people in the city do not bother to apply for home-return permits. It means they do not bother to have any relationship with the mainland at all.

The call for separatism appears to be gaining popularity with the young people in the city. According to the figures released by the Registration and Electoral Office, the localist candidate Edward Leung Tin-kei, who won more than 66,000 votes in Legislative Council by-election for New Territories East in February, fared remarkably well in polling stations where there is a substantial proportion of post-’90s voters. He clinched nearly 30 per cent of the vote in the polling station at Sheung Tak Community Hall in Tseung Kwan O, where 23.1 per cent of voters are of that generation.

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Many mainland officials are puzzled why many young people have a negative impression of Beijing. The answer lies in their discontent with Beijing’s tough stance on Hong Kong’s democratic development and its treatment of those critical of its governance, such as the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).

Time is running out for Beijing to win over the hearts and minds of the young generation in Hong Kong.

Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor