Protect our autonomy rather than push for independence

Catalonia is a textbook example for Hong Kong of where a push to break away from a sovereign power can lead, while Puerto Rico shows what the loss of autonomy really looks like

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 1:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 1:25am

Hong Kong has been consumed by debates over independence and autonomy. The international scene today offers ample lessons on why they must be handled with great care.

Just look at two places: Catalonia and Puerto Rico. In the former, it shows that Western democracies don’t easily tolerate independence movements, at least not in their own backyards. In the latter, it demonstrates what the loss of autonomy looks like.

There are some parallels between Catalonia and Hong Kong. Catalonia is among the richest regions in Spain. Hong Kong remains, though probably not for long, the richest city in China. Catalonia pays a disproportionate amount of tax to Madrid. Hong Kong, however, doesn’t pay a cent to the central government.

As soon as independence was declared, Madrid moved to take over the secessionist regional government.

‘I’ve never felt Spanish’: pro-independence Catalans explain why they feel no loyalty to Madrid

All across Europe, national governments show no interest in, or support for, Catalonian independence. The European Union has long declared it would not recognise it.

Spain is a constitutional monarchy. For Beijing, a communist state, the threshold for tolerating independence as an ideology is much lower. Hong Kong doesn’t need to declare independence to invite intervention. We must weigh whether we should protect the right of foolish youth to advocate something as impractical and absurd as independence to the detriment of public welfare and tranquillity.

Meanwhile, some people in Hong Kong have complained about the loss of autonomy. They have no idea, though they may learn something from Puerto Rico, an American territory.

Under the weight of unsustainable debt, its economy collapsed, resulting in the political equivalent of being put into receivership. Under a fiscal oversight board, US federal agencies now run the island’s banking and legal systems, budgets, foreign trade and relations, shipping and maritime laws, broadcasting, postal service, immigration, social security, border control, transportation, defence, the environment, territorial waters and air space. The US dollar is the official currency. It is poorer than the poorest US state, Mississippi.

When three hurricanes hit the Caribbean in recent months, US help was slow in coming. When a mayor on the island complained, President Donald Trump blasted her for being ungrateful.

Hong Kong actually enjoys a very high degree of autonomy, not only relative to Puerto Rico, but the member states of the EU, and their regional governments. Just ask Catalonia.