“If you tell me that it [waving the colonial flag] is not about independence, nor alluding a detachment from the Central (People’s Government), I won’t believe it,” said Holden Chow Ho-ding, chairman of the Young Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
Although he admits that he knows little about HKAM, he believes they have a hidden agenda to make Hong Kong an independent entity, even though they only talk about autonomy in public.
Chow’s views echo those of Chen Zuo’er, a former deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO). Chen said to the media that it is heartbreaking to see Hong Kong people waving the flag of a foreign country, meaning the colonial Hong Kong flag that bears the Union Jack.
Lu Ping, a former director of the HKMAO also wrote to a local newspaper and expressed his dismay about people who advocated Hong Kong independence. “Deprived of support from the mainland, Hong Kong will be a dead city,” he wrote.
Ip Iam-chong, one of the activists in the campaign to save Queen’s Pier and now a senior teaching fellow of the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, says Hong Kong can expect more explicit interference from Beijing. Ip was among the earliest group of people to talk about the “local discourse” in the wake of the social movements.
Ip says autonomy and independence is a sensitive topic for every country in the world and, for Hong Kong, it is a taboo in the context of “One Country, Two Systems”.
“[The central government thinks] independence is separatist and you cannot discuss it. But does that mean it [the problem] doesn’t exist? Of course not,” he says.
Yet Ip thinks it is normal and healthy to talk about autonomy and independence, especially as the Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy”. What he does find worrying is what he sees as an increasing tendency to put issues into a binary opposition and the attitude of rebuking and labelling others as enemies simply by taking the superficial meaning of what they have said. “It is like if you do not talk like me, then you must have a problem,” says Ip.
Without cooler heads, Ip thinks it is hard to see how there can be rational discussions on the issue. The war of words has spilled over from the internet to the streets and even rages in the chamber of the Legislative Council. Denunciations of those who advocate Hong Kong autonomy as traitors, running dogs of imperialism and worse are frequently found on social media sites and heard at public events. Similarly, those who identify with China can be automatically labelled as communist-loving traitors and lap-dogs of Beijing.
Even those who support local consciousness but urge tolerance and respect for mainlanders, such as Ip Iam-chong, are attacked as left-wing facilitators of the Chinese Communist Party and accused of selling out the interests of Hong Kong people.
The conflict between localism and nationalism extends beyond tensions and confrontation between Hong Kongers and mainlanders. It also divides Hong Kongers themselves and some fear the war or words may yet turn into something more.
Edited by Ian Cheng