Paul Yeung agrees with incoming CE Lam’s point, backed by survey results, that support for independence is thin but believes current CE Leung is right to urge vigilance
The issue of “Hong Kong independence” is raising public concern again as Taiwanese pro-independence politicians set up a new platform, named “Taiwan Congressional Hong Kong Caucus”, to link up with Hong Kong advocates of self-determination in the name of supporting Hong Kong’s democratic movement.
Coincidentally Chief Executive-designate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last week said the idea of Hong Kong independence is supported by very few and has not taken root as a popular ideology. However, current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying this week said we should stay alert when there are people suggesting Hong Kong’s self-determination, separation or even independence, referring to the incident in Taiwan. The two comments from the two SAR government leaders seem to be contradictory.
Lam’s remark is quite evidence-based. Last week, the Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey, which was established at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, released the latest result of their project “Public Opinion and Political Development Studies”. This project was notable since it sought respondents’ views on prospects for Hong Kong after 2047 and provided “independence” as an option. The result was that 17.4 percent of respondents “supported” Hong Kong “independence” last year. The figure is quite surprising and raised more concern on the issue. However, the support for “independence” dropped significantly to 11.4 percent this year. It seems Hong Kong independence, just as Lam said, is not a popular ideology.
To understand the figure we need to consider the implications and first study the question design of the survey. The survey told the respondents “there have been some discourses in society regarding the prospects of Hong Kong after 2047”, and then asked the respondent to indicate their support for three scenarios separately: “Maintaining ‘One Country, Two Systems’, ‘Direct governance by China’ and ‘Independence’. That means the three options are not mutually exclusive and more likely to test the direct perception of the respondents and the so-called “support” is not an answer under serious consideration. The drop implies that one-third of the respondents who “supported” independence last year changed their stance this year. Why did they change?
We may find the answer by looking back at what happened in the previous 12 months. We found the special administrative region government took a serious attitude toward the rise of “independence”, maybe with labels of “self-determination”, “separation from China”. Besides, the central government has delivered a clear message to Hong Kong society that it will not tolerate any ideas and forms of independence. One of the most representative actions in that respect was the SAR government’s legal bid to disqualify two legislators-elect on the grounds that their actions in the oath-taking process had contravened the Basic Law. Later the National People’s Congress Standing Committee came forward to interpret Article 104 of the Basic Law to clarify the provision on the process of the legislators swearing allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR as part of China when they take office. As a consequence, the court disqualified the two legislators. The survey also asked the respondents if they believed Hong Kong could attain independence in the future. Those thinking that it is “possible” dropped from 3.6 percent to 2.9 percent. The message sent by the central government was apparently heard.
Let’s go back to Leung’s comment. The result above showed that the force behind independence advocates is facing a great challenge. Hence, it needs to seek assistance, and the most convenient one is the Taiwan pro-independence elements. That’s why we can read from the news that the Hong Kong localist legislators — Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick — as well as the student leaders of the “Occupy Central” movement — Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Alex Chow Yong-kang — were invited to attend the press conference of the “Taiwan Congressional Hong Kong Caucus” formed by the pro-independence Taiwan lawmakers. The spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council described it as “an attempt made by Taiwan’s independence forces to collude with Hong Kong’s independence advocates”. Hence, Leung’s advice to stay alert is reasonable.
It is expected that the advocates of Hong Kong independence will use Taiwan as a base. Nowadays, Hong Kong independence has two dimensions: The local support to Hong Kong independence drops, while the issue is upgraded to a new level. A stitch in time saves nine. It’s time to uphold Hong Kong’s confidence in the “One Country, Two Systems” and fight against any move by separatists in any region.
The author is research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.