Independent Thinking

There is so much wrong information being fed into the public discourse on the subject of Hong Kong independence, no wonder the discussion is generating more heat than light.

Let us start by getting some facts on the table, beginning with two fundamental errors being made by the localists. According to their public statements, those in the "self-determination" camp are working from the premise that the Basic Law expires in 2047. It does not. The Basic Law enacted by the National People’s Congress in April 1990 is permanent legislation which endures in its present form until repealed or amended by that body. Therefore it is simply not the case that starting from 2047 there will be a blank sheet of paper upon which the community is free to design an entirely new constitutional structure.

Possibly people have been misled by Article 5 which pledges the previous capitalist system and way of life "shall remain unchanged for 50 years". Arguably that promise expires in 2047, but the rest of the document remains in force.

The second area where localists are not putting the pieces together properly was elegantly set out in these pages by Bernard Chan. Let me spell it out again, less elegantly. Chapter 1 of the Basic Law sets out China’s general principles. Article 1 reads "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China." So while it is correct, as the localists point out, that the law contains provisions for amendment in Chapter VIII, Article 159 makes clear that no amendment can contravene China’s basic policies i.e. the principles in chapter 1 including of course Article 1.

It follows from the foregoing that the road to independence for Hong Kong, if there is one, does not start in our city at all. It begins in Beijing with a petition to the NPC to amend Article 1. All I can say to our young friends on this point is "Good luck with that".

But if the localists have got the situation totally wrong, they are not helped by the nonsense being spewed out by the administration.

Nothing in the Basic Law or any other piece of legislation in force here makes it illegal to discuss the question of independence, contrary to the frequent hysterical assertions to the contrary. Taking up arms to secede by force, or inciting others to do so, is sedition and you will go to jail. Discussing calmly a desire to peacefully trigger the provisions for amendment to a constitution where those conditions are specified in the document itself is entirely legal and permissible.

Discussion of the subject in schools is not only not improper, it is arguably the best possible place to explain some of the aspects in more detail such as the two major points described earlier. Goodness, it could even lead to better understanding of the Basic Law itself. Isn’t that supposed to be an official objective?

Some of those insisting there is no place for the subject in the school curriculum need to think the matter through more carefully. Is it really true, as claimed by Henry Tang, that independence is like incest because it would be too sensitive to talk about? Is it really correct, as asserted in guidelines issued to teachers at schools run by Sisters of the Precious Blood, that it would be like discussing suicide or bank robbery? Did it really help matters to liken, as chief executive C Y Leung did, discussing independence to swearing? That should just about guarantee 90 per cent of schoolboys would automatically do so.

Attacking the idea of self-determination with such inappropriate arguments is not helping to raise the level of debate.

What is really at stake? The Basic Law was sold to citizens here on the basis that there was to be One Country, Two Systems, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. What the localists are fundamentally saying is that this is not what we are getting. The Central Government’s Liaison Office intervenes in our elections by helping to coordinate pro government candidates’ activities. It and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office in Beijing comment freely on matters that fall well within our high degree of autonomy.

A spokesman, for example, last week issued a formal statement following the LegCo elections saying that the subject of independence was not to be discussed when the legislature reconvenes. Every time there is a public comment like this on any subject, it reinforces the impression that the central government is not honouring the Basic Law.

And as Eddie Chu, Nathan Law et al might say: who in Hong Kong elected you?