Most Hong Kong people know independence for the city isn’t practicable, so why overreact to a minority opinion?

Mike Rowse says officials in both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments are making a mountain out of a molehill over independence calls from a small group

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2016, 12:00pm

I am obviously going to have to study this Hong Kong “independence/nationality” issue a lot harder because so far I have been unable to understand what all the fuss is about.

Hong Kong is a part of China and always has been. Historically, geographically, ethnically, culturally, in every way you can imagine, our city is connected to and is part of its natural hinterland. Because of well-known historical factors, we developed in slightly different ways from the mainland, but these differences are well covered by the “one country, two systems” formula.

Our situation is totally unlike that of our usual comparator Singapore, which has no natural hinterland and is a modern industrial city where Buddhists and Christians together make up over half the population, surrounded by two large, predominantly Muslim agricultural societies.

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A group of mostly young people got together in Hong Kong recently and, looking ahead to 2047 (when the guarantees of our high degree of autonomy are due to expire), said the option of complete independence should be one of the options considered at that time.

This suggestion was greeted by a tsunami of criticism from the central government in Beijing, from the head of its local liaison office and from no fewer than three of our most senior officials (chief executive, chief secretary, secretary for justice) plus the leftist press and sundry commentators of similar ilk. Such a suggestion was “contrary to the Basic Law”, it “undermined national security”, it was an “insult to the country’s dignity”, it was an “idea proposed by foreigners to attack China” and so on.

These comments have several things in common, most notably that none of them are true

All of these comments taken individually have several things in common, most notably that none of them are true. Freedom of speech is one of the aspects of our way of life which is specifically protected by the Basic Law, for example, so everyone is entitled to float and discuss pretty much any idea at all, provided they don’t tip over the edge into sedition and similar crimes. A country that protects free expression of its citizens is secure and dignified.

But it is when the comments are taken collectively that most damage is done to our political fabric: they are a wild overstatement. We can have a competition to find the most appropriate English expression: “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut” is one, “making a mountain out of a molehill” is another.

The fact is the number of people who truly believe that independence for Hong Kong is practicable is so small as to be insignificant.

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But the number of people who would like to poke a sharp stick into the eye of the government in Beijing runs into the hundreds of thousands. This does not augur well as we come up to the Legislative Council elections in September. Everyone who is aggrieved by any action or decision of either administration now has a perfect opportunity to make a point: it is entirely possible that we could see both Mong Kok rioters and Hong Kong nationalists returned at the polls. They would be saying, “you wanted a mountain, now you’ve got one.”

It is possible our chief executive has spotted the danger, as his recent remarks have been noticeably less abrasive. This is wise: while we have a duty to guide the younger generation, we also have a duty to listen to them.

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We do not need a referendum on independence for Hong Kong either now or in the future. What we need is adherence to “one country, two systems”, and a guarantee that it will be extended past 2047 if that is what circumstances require.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. [email protected]