Seekers of Hong Kong independence must get real

Peter Kammerer says while it is true that successful, small nations exist, the cultural and linguistic bonds that tie us to the mainland simply cannot be ignored

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 3:21pm

Calls by political provocateurs that Hong Kong should go it alone are invariably shot down by officialdom. The reasons given are, variously, that seeking independence is a violation of China’s constitution, the Basic law or national security. But such rejections avoid the fact that Singapore, a place our city is so often compared to, is an independent country, Chinese-majority and also an economic success. In fact, there are 25 nations with a smaller area than Hong Kong, several being even more affluent.

Poverty-rife island nations like Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu are on the list, but so, too, are wealthy states like Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino. Liechtenstein, with a 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate, is most like Hong Kong. Yet it is about one-seventh of our city’s area, has one-200th of the population and the world’s second-highest gross domestic product per capita, 35 per cent more than our own. Apart from being a place with easy rules of incorporation, its other claims to economic fame are tourism and being the global goliath for the manufacture of false teeth. It does all this without having an airport and being landlocked.

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Such details are inspirational to those who can’t stomach Beijing’s politics. They most likely have already done the calculations for what survival after independence would involve. With the central government in all likelihood hostile, new sources for food and water would have to be found. Even if an amicable agreement was struck, Hong Kong would have to adapt to its changed environment.

Self-rule is the best that most separatist movements can hope for

But people who have such thoughts are dreamers. There aren’t too many governments that would entertain the idea. Britain’s referendum for Scottish independence in 2014 is one of the exceptions and the “no” vote won, with 55 per cent. Self-rule is the best that most separatist movements can hope for. Under “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has a good measure of that already and Beijing has made it clear that only on its terms will there be a shift.

The world’s newest nations, South Sudan and East Timor, came about after bloody conflicts. Peaceful divisions are rare; Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, an easy agreement given that the country had been stitched together out of convenience at the end of the first world war. Wars are usually what make or break nations and a few dozen radically minded people, at most, stand no chance against the likes of the People’s Liberation Army. Radical acts are not an option; the vast majority of citizens are unwilling to accept such behaviour.

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People hoping for an independent Hong Kong have failed to understand that nationhood is about differences. It makes sense that people who speak the same language or share a culture should join together. Hong Kong’s 156 years of British colonial rule have given us a particular kind of legal system and engrained certain ideas and values. But deep down, those on both sides of the border are culturally the same. They celebrate the same festivals. Confucian thought is still a factor in lives, with respect for parents and elders always in the back of minds. Hierarchy remains important, despite Western influences. A region that is 95 per cent Chinese and part of a thousands-years-old civilisation for all but a brief period of foreign rule has no good reason to consider itself separate. Arguing the case of Taiwan holds no water; no matter on which side of the strait Chinese live, they still believe they are in China.

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There’s nothing wrong with talking about independence. But those pushing for an independent Hong Kong need to face the facts and understand reality.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post