All eyes were on the six new councilors who call themselves localists. The occasion was the swearing-in ceremony for Hong Kong’s new 2016-2020 Legislative Council term. The six are direct descendants of the 2014 Occupy protest movement and they had done what no one initially thought possible … by actually winning seats in last month’s council election (Sept. 8 post).
The six: Sixtus Baggio LEUNG Chung-hang 【梁頌恆】, New Territories East, Youngspiration; YAU Wai-ching 【游蕙禎】, Kowloon West, Youngspiration; CHENG Chung-tai 【鄭松泰】, New Territories West, Civic Passion; Eddie CHU Hoi-dick 【朱凱迪】, New Territories West; Nathan LAW Kwun-chung 【羅冠 聰】, Hong Kong Island, Demosisto; LAU Siu-lai 【劉小麗】, Kowloon West.
All had promised to represent the Occupy spirit of political defiance if elected. But since they don’t all speak with one voice, people are naturally asking how to distinguish one localist from another … and from all others who call themselves pro-democracy partisans.
The Youngspriation group, formed soon after Occupy protests ended in late 2014, has emerged as the strongest (officially permitted) voice. But its convener Baggio Leung didn’t clarify matters much when he said that looking over the newly-elected legislators he could see only three real localists among then, not six (Oct. 5 post).
His elaboration on the need to promote a distinctly separate Hong Kong identity, as the standard for defining a true localist, only provoked more questions and left journalists competing for follow-up interviews he didn’t have time to give.
SWEARING IN: Radical Separatists
Baggio Leung and party-mate Yau Wai-ching provided more answers during the October 12 oath-taking ceremony, when they added some flourishes to the formal vow. This requires councilors to pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and to uphold Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution.
Knowing that it might trigger their immediate ejection from the council, they didn’t actually call for independence. Instead they brought along banners that read simply, in English: “Hong Kong Is Not China.” They also modified the oath accordingly. Why they felt the need to insult and offend as well is for them to explain. Their oaths were declared invalid and their status is pending.
Both chose to recite the oath in English and both did so as required. But they added that they were proclaiming their devotion to the “Hong Kong nation.” They also deliberately mispronounced the word China. Both called it Chee-na, remembered as an old term derived from the archaic “Shina,” used derisively by the Japanese during their World War II occupation. Additionally, Yau really did swear in and called it the “People’s Re-fucking of Chee-na.”
Other localists recited the oath as required with a few extra flourishes that were deemed acceptable by the presiding officer. Only one other was not. Not counted as one of the six is Functional Constituency councilor Edward Yiu Chung-yim 【姚松炎】. He represents the architectural, surveying, and landscaping sector.
Taking the oath in Cantonese, Yiu added that he aimed to uphold procedural justice in Hong Kong and continue the fight for genuine universal suffrage. Why this should have been unacceptable remains for the presiding officer to explain. Especially since Eddie Chu was able to get away with declaring: “Democratic self-determination! Tyranny must perish!” *
EDDIE CHU’S ALTERNATE STRAIN OF LOCALISM
During a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club the day before, Chu had some interesting things to say about these different kinds of localists.** Baggio Leung had separated them into two strains based on whether or not they advocated a completely separate Hong Kong identity. Eddie Chu explained more clearly what he also identified as two strains of localist thinking.
He joked that the reason he had been invited to give what he said was his first speech in English was because everyone wanted to know how he, largely unknown outside his suburban New Territories constituency, could have won more votes than any other candidate on September 4. His total was 84,000. Actually, he was already well enough known but only as an environmental activist and unsuccessful District Council candidate.
But besides emerging as the surprise “King of Votes”, Eddie Chu dominated local headlines immediately after the election because of one of his causes. He had alleged a pattern of collusion between the Hong Kong government, New Territories rural landlords, and their organized criminal enforcers. And he had used one proposed development project to prove his point.
Death threats against him during the election were credible enough (after he won so many votes) to warrant ostentatious round-the-clock police protection, elaborate promises of protection from the local kingpins, and dramatic police raids on triad society hangouts in the district. But he didn’t dwell on the combination of circumstances that had turned him into an instant celebrity. Instead, he spoke mostly about Hong Kong’s localist movement and what he thought of Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing.
He said the 2014 Occupy protest led by the students was a watershed. People were fed up with Beijing’s promises and had lost confidence in the older generation of pan-democrats because they don’t know how to fight effectively for what they want. In contrast, Chu thinks he knows what should be done and he said it was the younger generation that came out to support his election campaign.
If Hong Kong really wants to decide its own future then Hong Kong should focus less on the Basic Law and on Beijing with its National People’s Congress decisions, and think more freely about what Hong Kongers can do for themselves. We need a new mission, a paradigm shift, he said, from the Basic Law and its one-country-two-systems formula that Beijing and Britain arranged for us. The lost momentum of Hong Kong’s democracy movement needs to be revived and he thinks that can be achieved by working toward some form of self-determination.
As he sees it there are a range of options. One is what he called the “right wing” demand of the localist nationalists for independence. But he said he is not with them. He thinks that’s not the way to go because it would have the effect of trying to distinguish real from fake Hong Kong people.
Instead, he wants democratic self-determination which could mean keeping Beijing’s Basic Law for Hong Kong. He doesn’t mind, and he doesn’t mind taking the oath to defend it … just so long as there can be changes that will allow Hong Kongers to manage their own political lives.
He pointed especially to Articles 158 and 159 of the Basic Law. These, he said, should be amended. They stipulate that the power to interpret and amend the Basic Law is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which means the communist party leadership in Beijing.
As to how such a major change could be achieved, given Beijing’s intransigence so far, he said the only thing Beijing really respects is political power. Hence it’s too soon to talk about how exactly to force Beijing’s hand because Hong Kong’s democracy movement is too weak.
Besides pan-democrats’ lapses in political judgement, he blamed the weakness on something specific: their service-oriented way of working. The political parties all have offices in their constituencies and they tell people come to us. We’ll help you solve your problems. But politicians should be more than social service-providers.
The local party offices need to be transformed into grassroots political power bases and this sort of deliberate activity should extend throughout the community. Hong Kong’s social movement should be transformed into a political movement, one that promotes community-wide political participation. He said the older generation of pan-democrats had left a black hole that the next generation had fallen into and now they must find a way out.
Toward this end, his own reference model is Podemos, the leftist party of dissent in Spain that was founded in early 2014. It has since grown into the country’s second largest political party. Podemos is Spanish for “we can,” inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan “Yes We Can.” Eddie Chu aspires to something similar for Hong Kong … in the form of a movement for self-determination that is as big and inclusive as possible.
But his idea about community-based political participation should not be an end in itself. It must point upward. The democratic camp had not worked hard enough at building power where political power mattered most, namely, in the Legislative Council. Chu said it matters most there because Beijing cannot ignore the Legislative Council.
In the last election, on September 4, democrats won only 30 seats in the 70-seat council. They should aim for a majority. And they should aim at winning more Functional Constituency seas as well as those directly-elected.
When we have built a strong power base, he said, maybe in four or eight years, after one or two more election cycles, then with a majority in the council, that will be the time to think seriously about how to bring pressure to bear on Beijing. That will be the time to work through the Basic Law’s problems.
Chu’s point is that Beijing understands community-based political power and Hong Kong can use it to overcome the obstacles written into the Basic Law. Otherwise, democrats should not try compromising with the central government … like they did in 2010 (when the result was Albert Ho’s compromise over Legislative Council electoral reform that created the five super-seats and led to nothing else). Negotiate from a position of strength, said Chu, or not at all.
Chu is also not too keen about the idea of holding a popular referendum on Hong Kong’s future. Many political parties (Youngspiration, Demosisto, Civic Passion) have adopted this idea in order to focus public attention on Hong Kong’s fate once the Basic Law’s 50-year shelf life expires in 2047. A referendum is no threat to Beijing, he said. In his view, only a popular mandate exercised through the Legislative Council will do.
Someone in the audience raised the perennial legal sector’s concern about the danger of trying to amend the Basic Law. If Hong Kong sets the precedent by demanding amendments, Beijing might amend it in the opposite direction and take away rather than grant more rights and freedoms.
Chu said he’s well aware of this concern. But time is pressing. We can’t wait any longer, he said. We’re stuck in this current situation without being able to move forward except in the way Beijing decides. He anticipates more disruption and violence if there is no forward movement. So he would rather take the risk than leave the stalemate to fester as it is.
But that is not his most immediate concern. What he fears most right now is that Beijing will replace the current much-disliked Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with some more moderate alternative. His term ends next year and the most frequently mentioned possibility in this regard is the Financial Secretary, John Tsang Chun-wah. He might then reintroduce Beijing’s political reform directive that provoked the 2014 Occupy protest and was vetoed by Legislative Council democrats last year … one of the few things they could accomplish with their meagre one-third minority.
Chu fears that democrats could be pressured into passing Beijing’s August 31, 2014 reform directive on a second try because democrats are still too weak. And Beijing by all accounts is determined to reintroduce that directive at the first opportunity. Democrats might be tempted to agree in return for a more moderate Chief Executive.
He thinks the person occupying the office is not the problem. The problem is the deal itself. That bargain would make the struggle for genuine universal suffrage all the more difficult since Beijing’s 8.31 mandate promises only Beijing-approved candidates as the mainland-style end product of the Basic Law’s long-delayed promise for “universal suffrage” Chief Executive elections.
* Subsequently Lau Siu-lai’s oath was also declared invalid because she had recited the words too slowly. All were supposed to be allowed to retake their oaths today, Nov. 19, but the Hong Kong government is challenging, in court, the qualifications of the Youngspriation pair. Loyalist councilors are also staging a walk-out to demand that the two apologize for insulting the Motherland. Without a quorum, the oath-taking ceremony cannot proceed.
** This is only a summary of Eddie Chu’s remarks. For the real thing, listen to the original: http://www.fcchk.org/event/club-lunch-hong-kong-self-determination-impossible-or-a-fresh-idea-of-grassroot-democracy/ Also: Apple 【蘋果】and Hong Kong Economic Journal 【信報】, Oct. 12.