Lo Ka-wing always moves to another carriage whenever he hears discussions in Mandarin by mainlanders as he takes the MTR to school.

Born a year after the city’s handover to China, the 18-year-old Hongkonger says he has no feelings at all towards his home country.

Startling as the claim may be, Lo is not alone, but one of a clutch of students at his secondary school who set up a group to advocate the idea of Hong Kong independence.

“Independence is the only way out for sure as Hong Kong is never going to have democracy under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party,” he told This Week in Asia confidently. “Only by breaking away from China can Hongkongers truly have a say in their government.”

Lo’s group is one of more than 20 to have appeared in secondary schools across the SAR over summer – a development at odds with Beijing’s determination to ban all pro-independence advocates from the city’s legislature.

The ideas of the student activists, outlined in flyers they distributed on the first day of school, have yet to garner widespread support from fellow classmates.

Nevertheless, their number appears to be growing. A survey by the Chinese University in July found one in five Hong Kong residents believed the city should go independent after 2047, the year the blueprint of “one country, two systems” expires.

As recently as a few years ago, nobody could have forseen that a once extremely-marginalised idea could gain even this level of support.

Pro-establishment parties have been quick to blame the education system, which they say fails to cultivate young people’s sense of belonging to the country.

Lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, moved a motion in the Legislative Council this month urging the government to require Chinese History as an independent subject at junior secondary level.

“The idea of separatism has been floated recently with some calling for Hong Kong to go independent,” said Cheung. “We have no choice but to rethink what’s going wrong … an insufficient understanding of history might be one of the reasons.”

But education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen blamed the political atmosphere in Hong Kong, saying a growing number of young people saw no hope under the “one country, two systems” principle.

“The fundamental solution is to prove to our students that the city could get better if ‘one country, two systems’ is properly implemented,” he said. “Banning discussion [on independence] in schools would only trigger young people’s curiosity and [make them] think the opposite.”

Tony Chung Hon-lam, 15, the convenor of the group Studentlocalism, acknowledged the difficulties in advocating independence, as many of his classmates were apolitical.

But he pledged to devote himself to the movement in the coming years and to bring the issue to international attention via petitions.

“The secondary school students today will be the leaders of the city in 2047,” he said. “The issue is closely related to their future.”