My Take
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Independence or self-determination: whatever you call it, it’s still separatism

Ever since the oath-taking fiasco, some localists who still aspire to enter the legislature have changed their tune from advocating independence to self-determination. While there is a difference, it’s one of degree, not kind

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 7:44am

Opposition circles insist on distinguishing between independence and self-determination. This was provoked by recent remarks made by Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei who said that both amounted to the same thing and breached the Basic Law.

But the real reason is that ever since the oath-taking fiasco, some localists who still aspire to enter the legislature have changed their tune from advocating independence to self-determination to try to avoid being disqualified. They have accused mainstream pan-democrats of switching positions to appeal to young voters. Now, which is more cynical: placating young voters or the government’s returning officers. They need to try harder. It’s not enough to preach to the converted in the echo chambers of social media, but also to the general public for whom they have yet to make a case of what the distinction entails in practice.

While there is a difference between independence and self-determination, it is one of degree, not kind. Given self-determination, Hong Kong people may well choose to remain under Chinese rule. Alternatively, self-determination may be a prelude to independence, which seems to be the intention of radical localists, if not now, then after 2047. But to make such a determination, you would have to hold a citywide referendum, and there is no such provision under the existing constitutional arrangements. This is not by accident: Hong Kong doesn’t have a choice to opt out of China, in whatever manner, any more than Shanghai, Shenzhen or Hangzhou does.

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The first few articles of both the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, unequivocally, recognise China’s unconditional sovereignty over Hong Kong. Neither document provides a mechanism to exercise a choice in deciding our political status.

Perhaps you can argue self-determination is synonymous with autonomy. But Hong Kong was never guaranteed full autonomy, only “a high degree” of it. Then there is the red herring with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 1 of which recognises all peoples’ “right of self-determination”. Under the Basic Law, the ICCPR has no direct application, but only thorough local legislation, that is, the Bill of Rights Ordinance. But the bill protects individuals, not a people as a collective. All this is academic. Young localists want to use public resources and hold public office, in the legislature, to advocate separatism, or whatever you call it. It could have been a cushy job, but they blew it for everyone with their disastrous oath-taking antics.