It is with great reluctance that I return to the subject of Hong Kong independence as promulgated by the so-called Hong Kong National party, and its convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin. I am reluctant because in my view too much attention has already been paid to the shallow and immature thinking recently on display at the Foreign Correspondents Club.
But there are still some important things that need to be said, so here goes. I begin with a confession: I attended the FCC event because I have written previously in this column explaining why independence for Hong Kong is completely impossible, and would anyway be against our best interests, but I wanted to understand the logic of those with a contrary opinion. The question I asked in the Q and A session after the speech to elucidate the position was simply this: “Bearing in mind that Article 1 of the Basic Law states that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China, what action have you been taking or will you be taking in the next few years to persuade the National People’s Congress to repeal Article 1?”
Chan dismissed the Basic Law, in effect saying it was not relevant to Hong Kong people like himself because they had played no part in its drafting or promulgation. In other words, his party would proceed as if the Basic Law did not exist. Apart from the sheer absurdity of the answer, it is also factually incorrect: there were Hong Kong members of the Basic Law Drafting Committee back in the 1980s (one of whom, at least for a while, was Martin Lee Chu-ming) and if memory serves a majority of the members of the Basic Law Consultative Committee were also locals.
Whether the reply displayed ignorance of history, or wilful disregard for the truth, was not immediately apparent, but no matter. In addition to the non-answer, which was bad enough, Chan had appealed during his speech for the American government to suspend the trade privileges Hong Kong enjoys under the US-HK Policy Act. Now just pause for a moment and see if you can find the logic in this proposal. On the one hand, the National Party says Hong Kong is different from the mainland, Beijing is encroaching on those things that make us different so – it is argued – we should become independent to protect those differences. On the other hand, it suggests that the privileges be dropped and we be treated the same as the mainland. How can a party whose very name implies it puts Hong Kong first in all things make proposals to harm Hong Kong’s economy?
Nor was this the end of the foolishness. Over the following weekend, Chan published an open letter addressed to US President Donald Trump appealing to him to kick both China and Hong Kong out of the World Trade organisation. Leaving aside the “drama queen” aspect of a political non-entity addressing the head of government of the world’s most powerful country, and leaving aside the fact that membership of the WTO is not within the gift of the American leader, how could this possibly be in Hong Kong’s best interests?
The Hong Kong nation has not even been formed yet, but already we have our first dissident. Some might use a stronger word.
The main thrust of Chan’s speech was that Hong Kong had been colonised by the British and was now being colonised by China. The analysis is specious because Hong Kong was not independent before the British came, it was part of China. Now the British have left and our city has returned to Chinese custody. That is not colonisation, it is a return to the status quo ante, or as some would say, redress of a historical wrong.
My personal impression was that most members of the FCC audience on the day, especially the more senior ones with greater knowledge of Hong Kong’s history, were not very impressed with Chan’s arguments or grasp of reality. Whether the Club should have given him a platform to air his views is certainly arguable. After all there is a difference between reporting the news and helping to create it. From one point of view, had the Club not invited Chan to speak it would not have been political censorship, just recognition that he fails the “common sense” smell test. But let’s just accept that there are different, legitimate, points of view.
It is a fact that many of our young people feel disaffected with the mainland and local authorities, and even feel less Chinese now than they did in 1997. That is a matter upon which both governments need to reflect.
It is fine for the international media to report valid criticism of the SAR and Central governments – hell, I do that myself. But it is surprising that none seemed to also draw attention to the fundamental flaws in the pro-independence position.
By chance the last couple of weeks also saw a major news item emerge from the British government archives. Hong Kong people have always known that a major factor behind the changes to the British Nationality Act which took effect in 1983 was the desire to strip local people of their right of abode in the UK. It now turns out that in addition to refusing to give Hong Kong people a full British passport, the UK government also lobbied the Portuguese government not to give their passports to residents of Macao, because of the precedent it would set. To their great credit, the government in Lisbon stuck to the more honourable course.
Perhaps there is a third government connected with Hong Kong which also has cause to reflect.