Pan-democrats pay price of not saying no to Hong Kong independence
After having seen their push for greater democracy hijacked, they risk losing everything with Beijing ready to interfere
You either support Hong Kong independence or you don’t. The vast majority of locals oppose it. Only a few advocate it, about 17 per cent of people, if a 2016 Chinese University survey is anything to go by.
It’s a simple position to take: either/or. Yet, if you ask the opposition in the legislature and other anti-mainland groups, many would give a non-committal answer, and then dodge the whole question by reframing it as one of freedom of speech. It’s usually along the line of “people should have the right to say whatever they like”.
I have more respect for the secessionists, even though I think they are doing tremendous damage. At least they have the guts to state what they believe in.
Not so our opposition. Among such groups is Chinese University student union. Giant banners and a string of posters advocating independence surfaced on its campus at the start of the new academic year this week. No one has so far claimed responsibility. University management, quite reasonably, took the items down.
Predictably, the student union is not saying whether it supports independence, but instead has accused the university of censorship and suppressing separatism as a legitimate topic of discussion.
But how do you suppress free speech if no one has claimed the right and/or responsibility to put up such things? Even if someone had claimed ownership, it’s still within the university’s right to take them down, regardless of the message.
Suppose those posters promoted the Communist Party or Chinese nationalism, would the student union still defend them as energetically as now?
The latest incident, though, can be a learning moment. People have every right to exercise and defend free speech, but they are also morally obliged to state their position with respect to the content of the speech they are defending, whether it be white supremacy, the national security law or Hong Kong independence. Otherwise, free speech as a right is just vacuous.
Moreover, by refusing to repudiate independence, the pan-democrat opposition has effectively allowed its own campaign for greater democracy to be hijacked.
Its leaders may not want to lose the support of young voters sympathetic to independence. But they now risk losing the whole pro-democracy movement and inviting Beijing to interfere.