Two years ago, demonstrators, many of them marching through traffic-clogged streets carrying iconic umbrellas, tried to move the Communist Party Government of China to grant Hong Kong more autonomy, more freedom in its choice of local officials. But after more than 11 weeks of protests, the so-called “Umbrella Movement” failed. Beijing didn’t budge. Hong Kong governance remained very much under the Mainland Government’s thumb.
Back in 2014, the idea of Hong Kong going beyond autonomy to independence from China was rarely spoken aloud and public support for the idea was close to zero. Now, a recent poll showed 17% of Hong Kong citizens supporting independence, with 40% of those aged 15 to 24 in favor of it.
Why this explosion of dissatisfaction with domination from Beijing? One recent provocation was China’s intervention to disallow the election of 2 pro-independence members of Hong Kong’s local Legislative Council — LegCo. The way Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government played its hand, superseding local courts before they could rule –as they did – in China’s favor, is held against it. So is Beijing’s disregard for the will of Hong Kong’s voters.
To many in Hong Kong these are signature acts of a remote, insensitive government that does whatever it wants, because it can.
There is good reason, I think, to suspect that the 2 banned legislators, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching, were hoping for a Chinese overreaction when they baited Beijing by affirming, at their official swearing in, their loyalty to a “Hong Kong nation,” and unfurling a banner that said, “Hong Kong Is Not China.”
The hammer wasn’t long in coming. Not only have Leung and Yau been tossed from the LegCo, they’ve been ordered to pay back $130,000 they’d been given for salaries and office expenses when they won election.
Beijing’s totalitarian, “Take that, you political brats,” may be intended to cow some independence-minded Hong Kongers, but indications are this demonstration of dictatorial power only strengthens the sense in the island city that more political separation from the mainland is the best direction for the future.
Joseph Yi-Zheng Lian frequently offers op-ed comments on economic and political issues for the New York Times. He had been a regular columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal, but was fired after writing critically about the Beijing Government’s interference in Hong Kong local politics
Our December 2014 conversation with James Pomfret of Reuters Hong Kong Bureau on the “Umbrella Movement” demonstrations: