Separatists who posted “pro-independence” materials up at local university campuses in recent weeks attracted widespread condemnation from Hong Kong people. Amid heated debates that followed, some radical students used particularly vile ethnic slurs to express their hatred for mainland people. They faced strong retaliation from some local residents who responded with extremely serious threats. While separatism deserves to be crushed it is not advisable to use irrational language which the opposition camp can then use against you.
A political struggle clearly demands political wisdom. Mature political groups and figures should adopt strategies that are just, which are to their own advantage and which are measured. Those who retaliated to the ethnic slurs with irrational threats may or may not be political figures per se, but they are members of the pro-establishment camp. They should therefore follow this rule well: Always ensure your cause is just; make sure you do things to your own advantage; and always act with restraint.
To ensure our anti-separatism campaign is fair we must follow two political principles. One is the Basic Law’s stipulation that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China. “Hong Kong independence” aims to change Hong Kong’s constitutional status; it is therefore not a subject for academic discussion. The other principle is that absolute freedom of speech does not exist. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states in Article 19(3) that one, while enjoying freedom of expression, must respect others’ rights and dignity, uphold national security or public order as well as public hygiene and ethics.
Universities are not Utopias and this means university staff and students do not have freedom to violate these two principles. Universities must ban “pro-independence” advocacy on their campuses.
The anti-separatism campaign must be combined with other important aspects of Hong Kong’s development. That is what “to our own advantage” really means. “Hong Kong independence” leads nowhere. It has therefore been roundly rejected by Hong Kong society. The “pan-democrats” know this very well but have so far not completely rejected separatism, because they don’t have a new political slogan after they blocked the government’s electoral reform bill aimed at achieving universal suffrage in the 2017 Chief Executive Election. This is why the opposition camp has been breaking apart since the illegal “Occupy Central” campaign ended. The more people understand the two principles mentioned above, the less reason there is for the “pan-democrats” to tie themselves to the doomed cause of “Hong Kong independence”.
Fighting separatism must also contribute to building a social consensus as well as focusing on economic development and improving people’s livelihoods. We must protect the bottom line that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the PRC against separatist attempts. But we must also show the public more facts proving that when the nation prospers so does Hong Kong. Establishing such a bottom line is a protective measure. It is designed to keep the public clear of this “restricted area”, but it is not enough to enhance people’s sense of belonging in the Chinese nation. For most local residents, the more they feel they are benefiting from Hong Kong’s economic integration with the mainland the stronger their faith will be in Hong Kong’s constitutional status as a special administrative region of the PRC. That is why the SAR government and local society must remain committed to defeating separatism while stepping up the structural transformation of the economy and improving people’s livelihoods at the same time and in equal measure.
Fighting separatism with full commitment and restraint means we must maintain a proper distinction between the misguided students and the masterminds behind them as well as between the few diehard separatists and those they have been hoodwinked into doing their evil bidding. We must keep in mind that it is a lasting mission that requires constant vigilance not just about separatism but other problems as well.
To effectively contain separatism Hong Kong needs to update its core values. Diehard separatists are a tiny minority in the city, but have far more sympathizers. This is because many lack a sense of belonging to the nation — or feelings of patriotism — a vital component of any society’s values.
The existing values of Hong Kong society took shape long before China resumed sovereign rule over the city 20 years ago. The Western ideology that forms the backbone of these values was transplanted from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom back in the Cold War era (roughly 1950s-1970s). This is when Hong Kong was largely disconnected from the mainland. It relied on its own strengths in pulling off an “economic miracle” and becoming a regional center of international trade, finance and shipping. Soon after the economic reforms and liberalization started on the mainland in the late 1970s, Hong Kong businesses found great opportunities to expand into the vast market up north. They have been profiting ever since. But nothing has been done to uproot the ideological bias in the minds of many Hong Kong people. Even though most people understand Hong Kong cannot exist without the mainland they do not necessarily share the same sense of belonging to the nation as their mainland compatriots. That is why the war on separatism will continue until the great majority of Hong Kong residents truly feel they belong to the Chinese nation.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, September 27, 2017)