If the Hong Kong National Party is banned, could any two people who mock mainlanders be next?
Michael Chugani says the government’s move to ban a party that advocates for Hong Kong’s independence from China goes a step too far
Supposing you and I tipsily talk politics in a bar after a few drinks. You fume about the flood of mainlanders virtually colonising shopping districts, yelling in Mandarin, driving up property prices, and blocking MTR trains with oversized suitcases.
I nod in agreement, chiding them for changing our city’s culture. We reminisce about the time when riding the Peak Tram didn’t require lining up for hours. Supposing you then taunt them as locusts. I drunkenly salute whoever came up with that description. We discuss distributing leaflets telling mainlanders to go home.
Bar talk? Free speech? Hate speech? Or hatred of mainlanders? If I were mumbling all that to myself in a bar or a Central street corner, people would think I was wacko. But if it’s you and I, that’s a different a story. Just two people can make up a society if the authorities so choose under our Societies Ordinance.
No one knows nowadays where the ever-shifting lines of our freedoms lie as Hong Kong morphs slowly but surely into being just another Chinese city. That’s why I am so spooked by the government’s move to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party.
I’m no sympathiser of party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin. If he and his tiny group of loonies believe they can somehow become a David that can overcome the Goliath that is China to win Hong Kong independence, they must be living in la la land.
Not only do I know independence is impossible, I am totally against it for historical as well as practical reasons. Hong Kong has always been a part of China. Its colonial past was just a brief interlude in the country’s long history. In any case, our total dependence on the mainland for so much of our daily needs means we couldn’t survive a week as an independent state.
But the reasons the authorities gave to justify banning the National Party frightened as well as fazed me. At best they seem legally weak. At worst they seem spurious. They include inciting hatred and discrimination against mainlanders, school infiltration and building connections with overseas organisations advocating independence of places such as Tibet and Taiwan.
Discriminating against and hating mainlanders? A sizeable chunk of our population is guilty of that, including some legislators. If lawmakers Claudia Mo Man-ching and Gary Fan Kwok-wai team up to mock mainlanders for ruining our culture, would they be banned as a society?
If primary school students hand out leaflets supporting independence, would they be branded as infiltrators to be banned? If I talk politics with visiting China-bashing American lawmakers who support Taiwan and Tibet independence, would we be classified as a treasonous society?
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The government has put us on a slippery slope where it decides at whim what is politically acceptable. Rules are bent to draw new red lines. It was perfectly fine for the government to oust legislators for their disgraceful oath-taking behaviour. At least it took the legal path, letting the courts decide.
But disqualifying localist candidates from joining elections put a blot on our otherwise laudable and clean election process. Only voters should decide who is qualified to represent them. As a free and open international city, the last thing Hong Kong needs is for Beijing to send an unintended message to the global community that it sees us as a threat like Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.
Tibetan monks immolate themselves for their cause. Xinjiang terrorists go on suicidal rampages. I cannot even see Andy Chan giving up his mobile phone for his cause, let alone immolating himself. He is as big a threat to national security as my late nanny Ah Chun who carried me on her back while she cooked and taught me Cantonese.
Yes, free speech has boundaries. Libellous, slanderous and violent speech have legal consequences. But is it worth shifting the lines of free speech by using a sledgehammer to swat a fly in the name of national security?
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host