HK activists seek return to British rule as first step to independence

HONG KONG • A group of Hong Kong activists is demanding a return to British rule as a stepping stone towards independence, as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip on the southern Chinese city.

The latest development came as pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was yesterday denied the chance to stand for election after a court threw out his bid to lower the candidate age limit from 21.

The 19-year-old, who became the face of Hong Kong's "Umbrella Movement" for his role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests which brought parts of the city to a standstill, had expressed interest in running for office.

The ruling coincided with the launch of the Alliance to Resume British Sovereignty over Hong Kong and Independence Party, the second political group in recent months to advocate a breakaway from China.

"Independence is the ultimate goal, to return to British rule is just a transitional phase," said the Alliance's leader, Mr Billy Chiu, 31, yesterday.

The activists said they believed it would be easier to gain independence from Britain than China.

"An independent nation is Hong Kong's only way out," Mr Chiu said, adding that the new party, which consists of around 30 members, will be formally announced on Sunday.

Mr Chiu in 2013 broke into a People's Liberation Army facility in central Hong Kong holding up a colonial flag and asking the PLA to "get out" of the city.

Hong Kong was handed back to Beijing in 1997, with the Sino-British Joint Declaration preserving its liberties for 50 years.

But there are growing fears that its freedoms and semi-autonomous status are under threat as Beijing increases its influence across a range of areas, from politics to the media.

Another group, the Hong Kong National Party, was launched in March, saying it was tapping the city's increasing desire to break away from the mainland.

Although not all activists are campaigning for self-rule, some see it as the only solution and have said they are not afraid to use violence to achieve their goal.

The negative sentiment has been exacerbated by incidents such as the recent disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers employed by a firm that published gossipy books about leading Chinese politicians.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'HK activists seek return to British rule as first step to independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe