Seekers of Hong Kong independence must have the foresight and patience to walk a peaceful path
John Chan applauds Scholarism for trying to bring a taboo subject into acceptable public discussion, but worries about the students’ resolve to avoid violence in their quest
Hong Kong’s independence has always been a taboo subject. Early advocates during the colonial era faced relentless suppression. At best, they were harassed and ridiculed; in some cases, they were persecuted. To Beijing, advocates of Hong Kong independence are separatists, on a par with Tibetan separatists who formed their own government-in-exile in India, or those in Xinjiang (新疆) who push for independence through armed struggle and terrorist attacks.
It is thus bold of Scholarism to decide it is forming a political party to participate in the upcoming Legislative Council election, on a party platform that pledges to push for a referendum on whether Hong Kong should split from China after 2047. It is also a move in the right direction that these students are seeking to rally mainstream support for their idea of Hong Kong’s future, instead of heading onto the streets in protests that lead nowhere, except to violence – as recent experience has shown.
With a political party that has Hong Kong independence as its platform, people can expect a rational – albeit heated – debate on the issue. When the topic of independence as an option for Hong Kong after 2047 ceases to be taboo, but a subject for serious discussion, from both political and legal perspectives, then both Beijing and the SAR governments will be obliged to engage these young students-turned-politicians in rational and constructive dialogue.
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Experience of separatist movements in Europe shows that armed struggle invariably leads to decades of bloodshed and hatred; witness the terrorist tactics employed by Irish Republican Army (IRA) to seek to end British rule in Northern Ireland, or the armed struggle of the Basque separatists in Spain.
Most Hong Kong people agree that using violent tactics to gain independence or greater autonomy can never be an option. Hong Kong is an integral part of China; those who seek a referendum to decide its future must deal with the unavoidable counterpart – Beijing.
The Scottish independence referendum in 2014, carried out with the blessing of the UK government, serves as a good reference for those who seek a similar path for Hong Kong. It was the product of interaction between the UK government and the Scottish Parliament, and went ahead only after the Scottish National Party (SNP) became the majority party in the Scottish legislature and formed a majority government in Scotland.
Like Scotland, we have our own legislature. It requires the blessing of Beijing to provide a legislative framework for a referendum on Hong Kong’s future after 2047. Dialogue with the central government is a prerequisite in any attempt to obtain that blessing.
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I fail to see how such a dialogue could be possible as long as students leaders and unruly activists keep chanting “Down with the Chinese Communist Party” to attract anti-communist supporters, showing total disrespect to the very government they need to enter into dialogue with. They need to behave to be heard.
After decades of bloodshed, the IRA formally laid down their arms in 2005, thus announcing their failure to end British rule in Northern Ireland by political violence. The SNP’s efforts to split Scotland from Britain through peaceful means for well over half a century ended in a “no” vote in the referendum.
To push through an agenda by way of a referendum requires wisdom from politicians, and a great deal of patience and perseverance to wait for the right political climate. The absence of respect shown to Beijing, to law and order, and the impulsive acts of violence by student leaders and many radical youngsters during Occupy Central in 2014 and the Mong Kok riot last month show they lack the wisdom, patience and perseverance required of referendum seekers.
The student leaders’ plan to form a political party to push for a referendum to decide Hong Kong’s future may be well thought out, but their lack of wisdom and patience to stay on a peaceful path may easily push them to lead their supporters back to mob violence on the streets again.
John Chan is a practising solicitor and a founding member of the Democratic Party