Talk on Hong Kong independence set to grab attention again

Youngspiration's Sixtus Leung who won a seat in New Territories East during the Hong Kong Legco Elections 2016.
Youngspiration's Sixtus Leung who won a seat in New Territories East during the Hong Kong Legco Elections 2016.ST PHOTO: JOYCE LIM

Newly elected lawmaker to lead discussions on topic after he is sworn in next month

In a forewarning of volatile times ahead for the Legislative Council (Legco), newly elected lawmaker Sixtus Leung, 30, has said he will be leading discussions on Hong Kong's independence after he is sworn in next month.

With the election of seven young localist lawmakers to the Legco in Sunday's polls, Hong Kong's independence, hitherto considered a marginal issue, has moved to the centre of the city's politics.

While the idea of Hong Kong's independence first surfaced in 2004, it caught attention only in January last year after Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying criticised a book by Hong Kong University's student union. His remarks attracted interest in the Chinese-language book which was sold out very quickly.

The notion of independence gained traction after the reform package on the election of the city's Chief Executive, which would grant universal suffrage but with some restrictions, was rejected last August by the Legco, said political scientist James Sung.

Professor Sung said many young people were disappointed and felt that Beijing had imposed too many restrictions on Hong Kong. They began to look beyond 2047, when the "one country, two systems" framework under which the city is governed and which gives it a high degree of autonomy ends, and that further sparked independence discussions, said Prof Sung.

 

While the idea may not have caught on with many older Hong Kongers, some nevertheless voted for localists out of frustration over the city's state of affairs.

A housewife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Chan, 58, said she had voted for localist candidate Nathan Law out of anger over Beijing's interference in the city's affairs. "We used to enjoy so much freedom. Now we can't even mention the word 'independence'... the more China tries to restrict our freedom, the more we will retaliate," she said.

The new localist lawmakers have varying views on Hong Kong's independence, but they share a common goal of wanting to protect Hong Kong's autonomy and its culture and identity. The Beijing government warned the newly elected lawmakers against such talk either "inside" or "outside" Legco.

Analyst Willy Lam said the reaction from Beijing was mild, considering how this new generation of radical legislators are expected to create more confrontations in the Council. However, he does not think Beijing will disqualify them from Legco as that would fuel more anger among Hong Kongers and lead to bigger problems.

Prof Sung said he expected Beijing to launch a tactical move soon to engage the traditional pan-democrats before they become too cosy with the localists. Apart from that, the younger lawmakers in the pro-Beijing camp may also reach out to the localists. But they would need to humble themselves, show more sincerity and come up with good proposals if they want to engage the localist legislators, he said.

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VIDEO: Youngspiration's Sixtus Leung says he will lead independence talk.
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Talk on HK independence set to grab attention again'. Print Edition | Subscribe