State of the Nation

I am obviously going to have to study this Hong Kong "independence/nationality" issue a lot harder because so far I have been unable to understand what all the fuss is about.

Hong Kong is a part of China and always has been. Historically, geographically, ethnically, culturally, in every way you can imagine, our city is connected to and is part of its natural hinterland. Because of well-known historical factors, we developed in slightly different ways from the mainland, but these differences are well covered by the "one country, two systems" formula. Our situation is totally unlike that of our usual comparator Singapore, for example, which has no natural hinterland and is a modern industrial city where Buddhists and Christians together make up over half the population, surrounded on all sides by two large predominantly muslim agricultural societies (just 14% of the population in Singapore).

A group of mostly young people got together in Hong Kong recently and, looking ahead to 2047 (when the guarantees of our high degree of autonomy are due to expire), said the option of complete independence should be one of the options considered at that time, and voted on by a local referendum.

This suggestion was greeted by a tsunami of criticism from the Central People’s government in Beijing, from the head of its local Liaison Office and from no fewer than three of our most senior officials (chief executive, chief secretary, secretary for justice) plus the leftist press and sundry commentators of similar ilk. Such a suggestion was "contrary to the Basic Law", it "undermined national security", it was an "insult to the country’s dignity", it was a "idea proposed by foreigners to attack China" and so on.

All of these comments taken individually have several things in common, most notably that none of them are true. Freedom of speech is one of the aspects of our way of life which is specifically protected by the Basic Law, for example, so everyone is entitled to float and discuss pretty much any idea at all provided they don’t tip over the edge into sedition and similar crimes by taking up arms to overthrow the government of the day or inciting others to do so. A country that protects free expression of its citizens is both secure and dignified. And we really must break out of this "when under pressure, blame the foreigners" mindset. It makes us look childish and foolish: the political creed of the leaders in Beijing is after all based on the philosophy of two famous foreigners, Karl Marx from Germany and Vladimir Lenin of Russia.

But it is when the comments are taken collectively that most damage is done to our political fabric: they are a wild overstatement in respect of which we can have a competition to find the most appropriate English expression: "taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut" is one, "making a mountain out of a molehill" is another.

When all is said and done, the number of people who truly believe ( as opposed to posture in order to annoy) that independence for Hong Kong is both desirable and practicable is so small as to be insignificant, a few dozens at most. You could probably get them all on to a single commuter bus, and give each his own seat.

But the number of people who would like to poke a sharp stick into the eye of the government in Beijing and even more so the one in Tamar runs into the hundreds of thousands. This does not augur well as we come up to the Legislative Council elections in September. Taking comfort in our long tradition of conducting a secret ballot, everyone who is aggrieved by any action or decision of either administration now has a perfect opportunity to make a point: it is entirely possible that we could see both Mongkok rioters and HK nationalists returned at the polls in the autumn. ‘Well,’ they would be saying, ‘you wanted a mountain, and now you’ve got one. Choke on it.’

It is possible our chief executive Leung Chun Yin has spotted the danger as his recent remarks have been noticeably less abrasive. This is wise: while we have a duty to guide the younger generation, we also have a duty to listen to them. After all, in 2047 they will still be here and most of us will not be.

We do not need a referendum on independence for Hong Kong either now or in the future. What we need is scrupulous adherence to one country two systems now, and an undertaking the guarantees will be extended past 2047 if that is what circumstances require.