Hong Kong localism and independence

Independence advocates are putting Hong Kong on a dangerous path, former Jockey Club chairman warns

Brian Stevenson says the city’s freedoms are at risk and that it needs to recover the can-do spirit that made it such a success

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 11:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 10:32am

Hong Kong is on a “dangerous path” and risks losing its freedoms unless it finds a way to re-energise the can-do spirit that made the city what it is and finds a mature outlet for its political frustrations, according to a leading member of the non-Chinese community.

The outgoing president of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, Brian Stevenson – who over 46 years in the city has held senior positions in many of its key institutions – was supposed to talk about sport in an interview with the South China Morning Post, but the 72-year-old chartered accountant, felt compelled to issue a warning.

Speaking before Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law last week over the oath-taking row, Stevenson said he feared for the city’s future.

“It does trouble me. I’ve been very fortunate to have been part of that time when Hong Kong became a major financial centre. I’ve always believed Hong Kong was the most wonderful, can-do place ... I’ve been very disappointed what I’ve seen in the past few years. I feel we’ve slipped, we’ve got heavily involved in politics,” he said.

“Maybe it’s understandable to an extent, but I’m very disappointed with what’s happening.”

To those who advocated independence, the former Jockey Club chairman said: “It’s not going to happen, ergo you should be saying to young people, ‘Look, you can discuss many things, you can discuss the extension of the lease and what have you, but independence is not going to happen.’

“And by the way you don’t want to talk about that, because if there was a treason act or something like that ... you endanger the freedoms that we have.”

Last week the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing interpreted the city’s Basic Law, effectively disqualifying two lawmakers who advocate independence – Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching – after they made offensive comments about China at their swearing-in ceremony on October 12.

Stevenson began 2016 as a new appointment to the University of Hong Kong’s ruling council, where his first meeting was stormed by students.

Having taken part in anti-apartheid riots in the 60s while a student at Glasgow University, he sympathised with young protesters but feared they may provoke a massive clampdown by Beijing.

“That is the nature of [poking] the bear, or the ‘panda’, absolutely. When I came here as a young man people didn’t even tell you, you knew ... that was after the ’67 riots and ’69 riots ... you got your head down and got on with the job of making Hong Kong successful and making yourself successful. I am concerned it’s a dangerous path we seem to be on.”

Stevenson said the city had lacked leadership since the time of Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first chief executive, and he felt protesters would be better off working towards a renewal of “one country, two systems” after 2047.

“I think the Chinese are very pragmatic, they’ve treated us pretty well – I’d be focusing on the treaty expiring in 2047 and I’d be thinking, ‘I wonder is it possible to extend it?’

“Right now with two seats at the WTO and G20 ... with the pragmatism of the Chinese they might say, ‘That’s quite useful.’

“But if we ‘misbehave’ it’s not going to happen.”

And he said Hong Kong could take a leaf out of Singapore’s “guided democracy” as he railed against the lack of leadership.

“I’m not necessarily talking about CY [Leung], I’m talking leadership from the government generally. I admire very much the Singapore government. You get a lot of criticism, ‘Oh it’s a dictatorship’ – no it’s not. It is a democracy but people respect the rule of law.

“Some of the things you see happening here wouldn’t happen there and I don’t think they’re beneficial for society.”