The display of colonial-era flags in recent protests is more about an anti-mainland feeling than a substantial movement for independence, most of this week’s SCMP Debate  participants say.
The question arose when Global Times, a mainland newspaper run by the Communist Party, joined two former mainland officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs to warn of growing “pro-independence” voices in the former British colony.
Lu Ping, former director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said in a letter to the South China Morning Post last month that advocates for Hong Kong independence were “sheer morons”.
Lu’s former deputy, Chen Zuoer, said the pro-independence force – which was “spreading like a virus” – should be handled firmly.
But Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a director of the China Law Society, said much fuss was being made of “people using freedom of demonstration to vent ‘nostalgic’ sentiment.”
Ray Yep Kin-man, a politics professor at the City University, says it would be “an exaggeration” to equate flying the flags with the rise of a pro-independence movement.
Alan Hoo SC, chairman of the Basic Law Institute, said protesters should instead be brandishing copies of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set out the terms under which Hong Kong would be governed after its return to Chinese sovereignty.
Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan – whose keynote publication last year advocating Hong Kong becoming a city-state has inspired thousands of online followers – says his campaign focused on local identity, “just like those states, city-states and dependencies that keep their historical coat of arms after joining a republic”.
A group calling itself “We’re Hongkongians, not Chinese” on social network site Facebook says that the colonial flag carries global recognition and legitimacy.
The group’s founder, Dickson Cheung, said there was a spirit of “social-contract” upheld by many locals in which all kinds of interference by Beijing in local affairs was regarded as inappropriate. He says all exchanges with the mainland “should be cut off”.
Allison Wang, from Anhui province and now a City University student, said exchanges between mainlanders and locals were necessary despite the latter’s resentment against mainlanders like herself.