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Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong independence debate is being fuelled by nonsense and misinformation from both sides

Mike Rowse says localists may have misunderstood key tenets of the Basic Law but ham-fisted reactions from the government only reinforce the public sentiment that it is not being upheld

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 6:26pm

There is so much wrong information being fed into the public discourse on the subject of Hong Kong independence, no wonder the discussion is generating more heat than light.

Let us start with some facts, beginning with two fundamental errors being made by localists. According to their statements, those in the “self-determination” camp are working from the premise that the Basic Law expires in 2047. It does not. Enacted by the National People’s Congress in April 1990, it is permanent legislation which endures in its present form until repealed or amended by that body. Therefore, it is simply not the case that, starting from 2047, there will be a blank sheet of paper on which to design an entirely new constitutional structure.

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People have possibly been misled by Article 5, which pledges that the previous capitalist system and way of life “shall remain unchanged for 50 years”. Arguably, that promise expires in 2047, but the rest of the document remains in force.

The second area where localists are not putting the pieces together properly was elegantly set out in these pages by Bernard Chan. Chapter 1 of the Basic Law sets out China’s general principles. Article 1 says, “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.” While it is correct, as localists point out, that the law contains provisions for amendment, Article 159 makes it clear that no amendment can contravene China’s basic policies, which includes of course Article 1. Thus, the road to independence for Hong Kong, if there is one, does not start in our city at all. It begins in Beijing with a petition to the NPC to amend Article 1. All I can say to our young friends is, “Good luck with that”.

Nothing in the Basic Law or any other piece of legislation in force here makes it illegal to discuss the question of independence

But if the localists have got the situation totally wrong, they are not helped by the nonsense being spewed out by the administration. Nothing in the Basic Law or any other piece of legislation in force here makes it illegal to discuss the question of independence, contrary to the hysterical assertions to the contrary. Taking up arms to secede by force, or inciting others to do so, is sedition and you will go to jail. Discussing calmly a desire to peacefully trigger the provisions for amendment to a constitution where those conditions are specified in the document itself is entirely legal and permissible.

Discussion of the subject in schools is not improper, it is arguably the best place to explain some aspects in more detail. It could even lead to better understanding of the Basic Law itself. Isn’t that supposed to be an official objective?

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Some of those insisting there is no place for the subject in the school curriculum need to think the matter through. Is it really true, as claimed by Henry Tang Ying-yen, that independence is like incest because it is too sensitive to talk about? Is it really correct, as asserted in guidelines issued to teachers at schools run by Sisters of the Precious Blood, that it would be like discussing suicide or bank robbery? Did it really help to liken, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying did, discussing independence to swearing? That should just about guarantee 90 per cent of schoolboys would automatically do so. Attacking the idea of self-determination with such inappropriate arguments is not helping to raise the level of debate.

The liaison office intervenes in our elections by helping to coordinate pro-government candidates’ activities

What is really at stake? The Basic Law was sold to citizens on the basis of “one country, two systems”, and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. What the localists are fundamentally saying is that this is not what we are getting. The liaison office intervenes in our elections by helping to coordinate pro-government candidates’ activities. It and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing comment freely on matters that fall well within our high degree of autonomy.

A spokesman, for example, last week issued a formal statement following the Legislative Council election, saying that the subject of independence was not to be discussed when the legislature reconvenes. Every time there is a public comment like this on any subject, it reinforces the impression that the central government is not honouring the Basic Law.

And as Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Nathan Law Kwun-chung et al might say: who in Hong Kong elected you?

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk