The Book Hong Kong Nationalism, published by the Hong Kong University Student Union publication Undergrad in 2013, is in hot demand in the territory after Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) used his new year’s policy address to direct harsh criticism at the Undergrad for promoting Hong Kong independence. Leung’s comments have set off another wave of debate about independence.
In my paper “What does it mean to be a Hong Konger?” published in 2000, I said that since identifying as a Hong Konger is an act that carries political significance, it could potentially lead to the development of Hong Kong nationalism, and I therefore defined such identification as proto-nationalism.
After the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the territory has maintained a different set of laws, a different education system, a different currency and a different market from China — of which the milk powder problem in Hong Kong is a good example — and this has stopped residents from developing the same national identity as people on the mainland.
However, as a result of the political environment — and in stark contrast to the situation in Taiwan — the further politicization of the local Hong Kong identity into a clear Hong Kong nationalism has not been very quick following the handover.
Still, the idea of Hong Kong independence does exist in Hong Kong society. A study that I conducted with Hong Kong University between 2005 and 2007 showed that if given the choice, one-quarter of respondents in Hong Kong would support the view that “Hong Kong should be independent.”
The problems with political reform in Hong Kong and the conflict between China and Hong Kong that has developed over the past few years have resulted in a surge in local Hong Kong awareness and a rising Hong Kong-centered — and even pro-independence — discourse.
Good examples of these developments are Hong Kong Nationalism as well as Undergrad’s February 2014 issue, “The Hong Kong nation deciding its own fate” and the September 2014 issue, “Democracy and Independence for Hong Kong,” which raise the Hong Kong-centered discourse to the level of political autonomy for Hong Kong, which in effect would be tantamount to Hong Kong independence.
One of the main reasons that the Hong Kong independence discourse has spread among young people is their lack of trust in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the most immediate factor is their disappointment in the Beijing-directed political reform and policy on universal suffrage. The 2007 study showed that 33 percent of respondents felt that if China continued to be controlled by the CCP, that would result in stronger support for independence throughout Hong Kong society.
The odd thing is that Beijing, which is the strongest opponent to such independence, becomes an important source for the rise in Hong Kong independence awareness. Apart from this, related surveys in Taiwan conducted in 2007 and 2013 also show that if the CCP, which is strongly opposed to democracy, continues to rule China, that would become one of the main reasons Taiwanese would not want to become “Chinese” or why they would refuse unification with China.
The “Umbrella revolution” could do nothing to shake the decision reached by the Chinese National People’s Congress rejecting universal suffrage in Hong Kong, which only goes to show that Beijing has no intention of changing its longtime focus on power above all. As universal suffrage in Hong Kong has reached a dead end, it is not difficult to foresee that if a similar survey were conducted today, it would be likely that support for independence would be shown to have increased sharply.
Today, Taiwanese independence awareness and opposition to unification with China has become a natural component in the minds of the young generation. It will be interesting to see whether the young people of Hong Kong will follow in the footsteps of the Taiwan independence movement and develop a Hong Kong independence awareness and Hong Kong nationalism.
John Lim is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History and an adjunct associate professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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