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Hong Kong localism and independence

For restless Hong Kong, revolt against Beijing is futile

Regina Ip says the separatist push by a minority of Hong Kong people – played out in legislators’ oath-taking row – must be nipped in the bud. The city’s pursuit of democracy will fail if it becomes a masquerade for separatism

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 9:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 9:40am

Following the election of eight separatists to the Legislative Council in September, it was widely expected that the new legislature would be anything but peaceful. The chaos that has ensued since the oath-taking has surpassed all expectations.

Forget filibustering, it will be guerilla warfare in the new Legco

As is now well documented, on October 12, in making the oath of allegiance as required under the law, a number of legislators shocked Hong Kong and the rest of the nation by using insulting language or making gestures that signified rejection of China’s sovereignty. Among them, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching caused the greatest uproar by calling China “Cheena” (or “Sheena”, a term used by Japanese invaders to insult China during the second world war), and by using foul language to deliberately mispronounce “People’s Republic of China”.

After the Legco president decided to allow legislators who failed to take their oaths properly to try again, the chief executive applied for a judicial review of the decision in respect of Leung and Yau, and asked the court to make a declaration that they had already vacated their office by failing to take their oaths faithfully and solemnly.

The Legco president’s decision to allow the disrespectful legislators to take their oaths again also prompted the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to interpret Article 104 of the Basic Law governing oath-taking. In his judgment following the interpretation, the judge, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung, ruled for the chief executive on all counts, effectively expelling Leung and Yau from Legco, with effect from October 12.

Beijing shows Hong Kong it won’t tolerate any challenges to national sovereignty

Hong Kong localist radicals played into Beijing’s hands

Mr Justice Au’s unequivocal judgment, in upholding China’s sovereignty and the constitutional importance of making an oath of allegiance in accordance with this cardinal principle, put an end to the oath-taking saga. The great majority of Hong Kong people were disgusted by the idiotic antics of the pro-independence legislators, and breathed a sign of relief when a constitutional crisis was averted.

Sovereignty issues – in effect, the acceptance of China – have always been a defining question in Hong Kong politics

The duo’s insults to China and the Chinese people were a direct attack on China’s sovereignty. Moreover, by openly advocating a “Hong Kong nation”, Leung and Yau brought separatist sentiments to the fore. Beijing had good reason to nip such separatist actions in the bud.

Looking at the saga in a broader, historical perspective, it needs to be recognised that jitters about China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong have been a long-standing phenomenon. The anxiety goes back to the 1980s, when China and Britain started talks about Hong Kong’s future after 1997. At the peak of the confidence crisis, Hong Kong’s currency tanked and the exodus of skilled, middle-class professionals to Western countries promoted the introduction of various “back-pocket passport” schemes (that is, citizenship schemes which granted passports without residential requirements) to keep professionals in the city. The signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and the enactment of the Basic Law, guaranteeing the separate system and lifestyle of Hong Kong, restored confidence. But sovereignty issues – in effect, the acceptance of China – have always been a defining question in Hong Kong politics.

Thousands turn out to decry Hong Kong independence

One glaring example is the media’s tendency to portray the two key political camps in Hong Kong as “pro-China” and “pro-democracy”. Such delineation reflects the tacit acknowledgement that some political parties are opposed to China.

Such China-related concerns raise their ugly head from time to time. The outgoing British overlords attempted to build ramparts against China by pushing democratic development before their departure. Intoxicated by the newly embedded democracy creed, post-1997 followers of Western ideology continued to promote democracy as a bulwark against Chinese influence. The quest for “civil nomination” in electing the future chief executive by universal suffrage, the call for “Occupy Central” to put pressure on Beijing, the eventual “umbrella movement”, a mass illegal occupation movement romanticised by the Western media as a heroic quest for democracy, and the calls for “self-determination”, were all in the same vein.

Why Beijing’s headache over calls for Hong Kong’s independence has only just begun

The quest for democracy turned ugly after the government’s motion on universal suffrage was voted down. Mong Kok was gripped by riots during the Lunar New Year. “Pro-democracy” legislators intensified their filibustering in Legco to voice their objection to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, whom they see as Beijing’s proxy. The election of separatist legislators in September stemmed from the same unease on the part of perhaps no more than 25 per cent of the local community.

Yet the powers that China holds over Hong Kong, through the constitutional authority it wields in the Basic Law, through the historical fact that Hong Kong has always been part of China and dependent on China for its livelihood, and through the silent endorsement of large numbers of locals who inwardly understand that there is no better arrangement for Hong Kong than “one country, two systems”, mean that such separatist attempts are bound to fail. Democratisation attempts will fail if they are rearguard efforts to break away from China. The NPC Standing Committee has spoken and restored calm. No doubt the struggle will go on, but revolt is futile and would only hurt Hong Kong.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People’s Party