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Hong Kong localism and independence

Students vow to revive pro-independence campaign on school campuses across Hong Kong

While groups from 18 secondary schools and universities plan to distribute thousands of leaflets and stickers promoting separation from China, experts doubt the campaign will go far

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 8:51am

Pro-independence groups from 18 schools and universities across Hong Kong are reviving a controversial drive on campuses to promote the city’s separation from China, with student leaders vowing more vigorous activism one year after an initial campaign fizzled out.

They plan to launch their new campaign on Tuesday, distributing thousands of separatism-themed fliers and stickers to students at school entrances, plastering them on message boards known as “democracy walls” at universities, and setting up street booths in Wan Chai, Kwun Tong and Yuen Long.

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Lau Siu-kai, deputy director of a top Beijing think tank on Hong Kong affairs, did not expect the campaign to go far, and warned that advocates were likely to find themselves further isolated from mainstream society.

“From what I see, the independence movement has become something of a small circle within the student community that is unlikely to affect society on the whole,” he said.

Both the local government and mainland Chinese officials have been increasingly firm about showing zero tolerance for independence advocacy in the city. Beijing officials have also stressed the need for a better understanding of the motherland to be taught in schools to nurture a sense of Chinese identity among youngsters.

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The fliers this time will plainly state that an independent Hong Kong, without China, is the only option to protect Hongkongers. Last year’s fliers took a more indirect approach, encouraging students to think of Hong Kong’s future after 2047 and proposing independence.

The conveners of Studentlocalism and Hong Kong National Front – two pro-independence umbrella groups involved in the new campaign – told the Post that 14 of the advocacy groups were from mainly government-aided secondary schools and four were from tertiary institutions.

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Studentlocalism convenor Tony Chung Hon-lam, a Secondary Five student at Buddhist Mau Fung Memorial College, said 2,000 leaflets and 10,000 stickers would be given out.

The 20-year-old convenor of the Hong Kong National Front, who wanted to remain anonymous, said 12 groups were expected to hand out fliers at school entrances before classes, and all would man street booths after classes. Each group typically has up to six members.

Last September, a campaign to discuss Hong Kong’s independence emerged at several schools when localist groups gave out fliers in or around campuses on the first day of the school year.

At least two groups had members summoned by school authorities and were told to stop all activities. The movement petered out as the government left it to school managers to handle such activities and monitor independence talk.

On Monday, the Education Bureau reiterated that independence advocacy was against Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law; the “one country, two systems” policy that gives the city a high degree of autonomy; and the long-term interest of the overall Hong Kong community.

The bureau said it expected schools to act professionally in handling political matters and it would provide support if necessary.

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Michael Wong Wai-yu, honorary executive secretary of Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said he believed schools had standard procedures to deal with students organising such activities.

Controversy erupted in September this year when independence-themed posters and banners surfaced on several university campuses, leading to a row between administrators and students over freedom of speech.

The two umbrella groups have not ruled out violence in the future to achieve their cause, with the Front claiming its members were being “trained” to handle confrontations.

While the Front’s members are mostly university students and graduates, Studentlocalism has members as young as 13.

They were also positive that this year’s collaboration would be more successful as participating groups would be better prepared to handle pressure from schools.

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At the same time, leaders of both groups conceded that fewer localist organisations had been in contact with them this year, compared with more than 20 last year.

The localist groups were disheartened by the failure of last year’s campaign and feared pressure from school management, they said, adding that they had plans to rebuild the network and also organise social events such as film screenings and talks.