The Fringe Idea Fueling China's Hong Kong Crackdown: QuickTake
Demonstrators outside the central government complex as they protest in Sept. 30 2014. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg (Bloomberg) August 12 at 5:00 PM
Occupying a corner of China smaller than Los Angeles, Hong Kong has never been seen as a viable candidate for nationhood. Nonetheless, a small, but vocal independence movement has emerged to challenge Chinaâs authority over the former British colony. Beijingâs campaign to quash the idea is having big consequences for the political system credited with maintaining the cityâs status as a global financial center. A pro-independence activist is slated to address the cityâs Foreign Correspondentsâ Club on Tuesday to discuss government efforts to levy an unprecedented ban against his party.
1. How did the movement emerge?
The British said little about Hong Kongâs self-determination before returning the city to China in 1997 on a pledge to preserve and expand its liberal democratic institutions over another 50 years. Frustration over the slow pace of reform boiled over in the mass âOccupy Centralâ demonstrations of 2014. After failing to win concessions, some activists began to embrace a more radical approach and organize pro-independence groups.
2. What do they want?
Besides shoring up local political freedoms, supporters also want to limit the flood of mainland tourists and home buyers that have pushed up living costs. Some advocate a far-off referendum to determine Hong Kongâs fate while others want a sudden break from Beijing. To the ruling Communist Party, theyâre all âseparatists.â After some self-described âlocalistsâ helped incite a riot that left more than 90 police officers injured in 2016, Chinese officials launched a campaign to break up the groups and curb their influence.
3. How practical is Hong Kong independence?
While supporters often cite Singapore -- a city-state even smaller than Hong Kong -- the example discounts the Communist Partyâs fierce opposition to any separation. Moreover, the cityâs 7.4 million residents are dependent on mainland China for food, water, electricity and trade. A Chinese University of Hong Kong poll conducted last year found less than 3 percent considered independence possible, even though 11 percent supported the idea.
4. Why is China so concerned?
The party bases its legitimacy in part on restoring what many Chinese view as their rightful territory and canât afford to have Hong Kong inspiring independence campaigns in Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Also, the movement has been surprisingly successful among Hong Kongâs youth. Voters elected six âself-determinationâ supporters in loc al legislative elections in 2016 -- including two avowed independence backers. During a visit to the city last year, President Xi Jinping called challenges to Beijingâs rule a âred line.â
5. What do other Hong Kong people think?
More mainstream democracy advocates accuse Chinese officials of exaggerating the independence threat to divide the opposition and justify new efforts to quash dissent. They blame a decision by former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying -- a staunch Beijing ally -- to attack a little-known book called âHong Kong Nationalismâ in his 2015 policy address with promoting the idea. Sales of the book surged.
6. How has China responded?
Authorities have stepped up prosecutions of the most aggressive protesters and moved to lock pro-independence activists out of the political process. After two successful legislative candidates inserted insults to China into their oaths of office, the national parliament exercised a rarely used power to interpret local law, barring those who voice separatist views from public office. In January, the local government prevented another candidate from running in a special election because her party endorsed self-determination.
7. Whatâs the risk?
The governmentâs latest attempt to ban a pro-independence activistâs party illustrates how the push to silence the movement could pose a broader threat to Hong Kongâs political freedoms. Freedom of speech and assembly are enshrined in the cityâs charter. Chinese officials have pressured the Foreign Correspondentsâ Club to cancel Tuesdayâs speech by National Party founder Andy Chan. Leung, who now sits on a national political advisory body, has questioned whether the clubâs government-owned premises should be put out for public bid as a result.
--With assistance from Grant Clark.
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