My Take

Shift in demographics means shift in politics

Those calling for Hong Kong’s independence are from the post-90s generation; dealing with them will be the greatest political challenge for the next government

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 3:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 3:16am

In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. In politics, I wonder if it’s really just demographics, demographics, demographics.

Take the Legislative Council elections next month. The average age of lawmakers in the Legco session just ended was 58, with the youngest being 35 and the oldest 80. Several localists who have just had their candidacies disqualified because of their political stance are in their early 20s. One of them is Edward Leung Tin-kei, who was, until his being barred, considered most likely to win a seat. He is just 25.

Localism, and its associated strand of support for Hong Kong’s independence, has many causes, but age is a key determinant.

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Localist politics seems to have suddenly upended and overshadowed traditional pan-democratic agendas. But it has been years in the making, with people born after 1990 – the so-called post-90s – coming of age and becoming politically involved, or simply qualifying as voters.

Repeat surveys in the past decade on ethnic identities by local universities have shown the same trends – more and more young people identify themselves solely as Hong Kong people, while older ones see themselves as being both Hongkongers and Chinese.

A bi-annual survey, released in June by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme, offers the latest snapshot of a continuing trend: 64 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 consider themselves only as Hongkongers but that drops to 37.8 per cent for those aged over 30.

When asked whether they considered themselves solely as Chinese, only 3.8 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 answered yes, while one in five above the age of 30 said yes. Back in 2000, one in five aged 18 to 29 said they considered themselves only as Chinese.

Older geezers like me tend to feel a deeper sense of “Chineseness” and have little trouble affirming Hong Kong being an inalienable part of China.

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Young people, though, who identify themselves exclusively as Hongkongers – or as being a Hong Kong person before being a Chinese – will be more inclined towards localism or even independence.

How to engage this demographic segment – without sending them all to prison or letting them wreak havoc – will be the greatest political challenge for the next government.

The latest fight over the Legco election candidacies of young localists does not augur well for a happy outcome.