Hong Kong independence calls a 'gimmick': China media

HONG KONG (AFP) - Chinese media on Saturday (Aug 6) dismissed Hong Kong's independence movement as a political "gimmick", following the city's first pro-independence rally that was attended by more than 2,000 people.

The unprecedented rally saw people fill a park near the government's headquarters Friday night, chanting "Hong Kong independence".

The protest was led by five pro-independence candidates who were banned from standing for election in Hong Kong because they advocate a split from mainland China.

Critics have slammed the move as censorship as fears grow over Beijing interference in the semi-autonomous city in a range of areas, from politics to media and education.

"Hong Kong independence follows the fantasies of certain people and has become one of the city's most extreme political gimmicks," China's Global Times newspaper said Saturday.

"It is completely impossible to be realised," the state-run paper said.

It added that Hong Kong authorities would feel the need for "institutional restrictions" in the face of the independence movement "to prevent it from being taken seriously and ultimately polluting the city's politics".

Independence calls, which until recently were a taboo topic, have evolved out of the "localist" movement of mainly young campaigners disappointed after mass rallies in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, failed to win concessions from China on political reform.

Some "localists" do not advocate independence, but are instead pushing for self-determination for Hong Kong, an idea which has taken root among other pro-democracy campaigners.

Demosisto, a new party set up by Umbrella Movement activists including well-known campaigner Joshua Wong, has made self-determination its central platform, although it does not cast itself as a "localist" organisation.

The party is standing in the upcoming elections, but faced a setback Friday night after election officials banned a leaflet it planned to distribute to more than 100,000 people.

The Electoral Affairs Commission told candidate Nathan Law, a former Umbrella Movement leader, that the use of the words "binding referendum" for self-determination was unlawful.

"Officials have not kept political neutrality and abused their authority and intervened in the election," Demosisto said in a statement.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under an agreement that protects its freedoms for 50 years, but concern is growing that those liberties are disappearing.