Hong Kong independence

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Hong Kong independence
Traditional Chinese 香港獨立

Hong Kong independence (Chinese: 香港獨立) is a movement that advocates Hong Kong becoming an independent sovereign state. Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) which enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the People's Republic of China (PRC), guaranteed under Article 2 of Hong Kong Basic Law as ratified under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.[1] Since the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the PRC in 1997, many Hongkongers are increasingly concerned about Beijing's growing encroachment on the territory's freedoms and the failure of the Hong Kong government to deliver "genuine democracy".[2]

The current independence movement emerged after the 2014–15 Hong Kong electoral reform. The reform package sought to introduce universal suffrage to Hong Kong, under the condition that Beijing would have authority to screen the candidates standing for election to the office of Chief Executive of Hong Kong (CE), the highest-ranking official of the territory. It sparked the 79-day massive peaceful occupation protests which was dubbed as the "Umbrella Revolution". After the protests, there were numbers of the new political groups which advocate for independence or self-determination were established as they deemed the "One Country, Two Systems" principle has failed.[2] According to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in July 2016, nearly 40% of Hongkongers aged 15 to 24 supported the territory becoming an independent entity, whereas 17.4% of the overall respondents supported independence, while 3.6% stated that they think it is "possible".[3]


Colonial period[edit]

Hong Kong Island was first ceded as a crown colony to Britain from the Qing Empire in 1841 during the First Opium War. The other parts of Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories were ceded permanently and leased for 99 years to Britain in 1860 Convention of Peking and 1898 Second Convention of Peking respectively.[4][5][6][7] Although the Chinese government, governed by the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek initially intended to take back the territory, Britain resumed control of Hong Kong in 1945 after the Second World War, in which Hong Kong was occupied by Japan for three years and eight months. There were few advocates for decolonisation of Hong Kong from the British rule during the post-war period, notably Ma Man-fai and the Democratic Self-Government Party of Hong Kong in the 1960s but the fruitless movement ceased to exist without substantial support.

In the last years of the 1970s into the early 1980s, the question of Hong Kong sovereignty emerged on Hong Kong's political scene as the end of the New Territories lease was approaching. Before that, Hong Kong and Macau were both removed from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, in which territories on the list would have the right to be independent, on 2 November 1972 by request of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Although there were advocacies for Hong Kong independence, the majority of the Hong Kong population, many of whom were political, economic or war refugees from the Chinese Civil War and the Communist regime on the mainland China, wished to maintain the status quo. The request for a Hong Kong representative in the Sino-British negotiation was rejected by Beijing. In 1984, the British and Chinese governments signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration which stated that the sovereignty of Hong Kong should be transferred to the PRC on 1 July 1997, and Hong Kong should enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle.

From 1983 to 1997, Hong Kong saw an exodus of emigrants to overseas countries, especially in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, which more than a million Hongkongers showed up on the streets to support to student protesters in Beijing. The Tiananmen incident in 1989 also led to the emergence of the local democracy movement, which demanded a faster pace of democratisation before and after 1997.

After 1997[edit]

Since 1997, the implementation of the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 45 and Article 68, which stated that the Chief Executive (CE) and the Legislative Council (LegCo) should be chosen by universal suffrage, dominated the political agenda in Hong Kong. The pro-democracy camp, one of the two largest political alignments in the territory, has called for the early implementation of the universal suffrage since the 1980s. After more than 500,000 people protested against the legislation of national security law as stipulated in the Basic Law Article 23 on 1 July 2003, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) in April 2004 ruled out universal suffrage before 2012.[8]

Since 2003, Beijing's growing encroachment on the Hong Kong's management has allowed Hong Kong to become increasingly integrated as part of China. Hong Kong people's freedoms and core values were perceived to have been eroded as a result.[9][10] In 2009 and 2010, the construction of the Hong Kong section of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou (XRL) escalated to a series of massive protests. Many protesters accused of the Hong Kong government spending HK$69.9 billion (US$9 billion) for an unnecessary railway just to please Beijing.[11] Some also feared it was for the People's Liberation Army to mobilise its troops quicker. In 2012, the government's plan to carry out moral and national education sparked controversy as it was accused of praising the Communist Party of China and Chinese nationalist ideology on the one hand, and condemning democracy and "western values" on the other.[12]

Protesters waving the Hong Kong colonial flag in front of the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

In 2011, there was an emergence of localist sentiments, some of them took the anti-immigration nativist stance, fearing mainland Chinese new immigrants, tourists and parallel traders would threaten the established institutions and social customs of Hong Kong. Chin Wan's On the Hong Kong City-State, published in 2011, arguing for a "localist" perspective and to abandon the "Chinese nationalist sentiment", triggered fierce public debate and was popular among the young generation.[13]

In 2015, five booksellers were reported missing from Causeway Bay Books. One of the booksellers Lam Wing-kee, who was released after his interrogation, held a press conference in which he expressly stated that he was forcibly detained by Chinese authorities and was put in solitary confinement for eight-months.[14] Amongst protocol breaches, Chinese authorities failed to report to the Hong Kong Government within 24 hours after three Hong Kong citizens, including Lam Wing-kee, were arrested. Lam was also required to sign a form forbade him to contact his family members and lawyers. It was seen a violation of the "One Country, Two Systems".[15]

Emergence of pro-independence movement[edit]

The Undergrad, the official publication of the Hong Kong University Students' Union (HKUSU), from February 2014, published a few articles on the subject of a Hong Kong nation including "The Hong Kong nation deciding its own fate" and "Democracy and Independence for Hong Kong". Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying used his 2015 New Year's policy address to direct harsh criticism at the magazine for promoting Hong Kong independence, which in fact had little traction up to that point, fanning both the debate and sales of the book Hong Kong Nationalism which featured the articles.[16]

On 31 August 2014, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) set restriction on the electoral method of the Chief Executive, in which any candidate should be screen through by a Beijing-controlled nominating committee before standing in the election. The 2014 NPCSC decision triggered a historic 79-days occupation protest which was dubbed as "Umbrella Revolution". The failure of the campaign for a free and genuine democracy strengthened the pro-independence discourse, as they view it as the failure of the "One Country, Two Systems" and an independent state is the only way out.

The Undergrad again published an article in March 2016 headed "Hong Kong Youth's Declaration" argues for Hong Kong independence on expiry of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 2047. It demands a democratic government be set up after 2047 and for the public to draw up the Hong Kong constitution. It also denounces the Hong Kong government for becoming a "puppet" of the Communist regime, "weakening" the territory's autonomy. Leung Chun-ying dismissed the claim, stating that "Hong Kong has been a part of China since ancient times, and this is a fact that will not change after 2047."[17]

2016 Legislative Council disqualification controversies[edit]

2,500 people attended a rally in the wake of the LegCo candidates' disqualification controversy.

In the 2016 Legislative Council election, six pro-independence activists were disqualified, including Hong Kong Indigenous' Edward Leung and Hong Kong National Party's Chan Ho-tin, by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), in which the government argued that their pro-independence stances did not comply with the Basic Law Article 1 which stated that Hong Kong being an inalienable part of China and Legislative Council Ordinance (Cap. 542) § 40(1)(b) which required all candidates to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. On 5 August, the Hong Kong pro-independence activists launched a rally which was dubbed "first pro-independence rally in Hong Kong" and drew about 2,500 people.[18]

On 12 October 2016 the inaugural meeting of the Legislative Council, two Youngspiration legislators Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching took the oaths of office as the opportunity to make their pro-independence statement. The two first claimed that "As a member of the Legislative Council, I shall pay earnest efforts in keeping guard over the interests of the Hong Kong nation," displayed a "Hong Kong is not China" banner, inserted their own words into the oaths and mispronounced "People's Republic of China" as "people's re-fucking of Chee-na".[19] Their oaths were invalidated by the LegCo secretary-general Kenneth Chen and was subsequently challenged by the government in the court. On 7 November 2016, the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) interpreted the Article 104 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong to "clarify" the provision of the legislators to swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China when they take office. The spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office stated that "[Beijing] will absolutely neither permit anyone advocating secession in Hong Kong nor allow any pro-independence activists to enter a government institution."[20] As a consequence, the court disqualified that the two legislators on 15 November.[21]

Support for independence[edit]

Political parties that support Hong Kong's independence include Hong Kong Indigenous, Hong Kong National Party and Youngspiration. Youngspiration calls for the right to self-determination on Hong Kong sovereignty. Localist activist group Civic Passion has expressed its support for Hong Kong independence before, but later called for the amendment of the Basic Law of Hong Kong through a civil referendum[22] in the 2016 Legislative Council election. Demosisto also calls for the right to self-determination to determine Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems principle as promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Hong Kong Basic Law is supposed to expire, although independence is not the party's position.[23][24] Other parties, such as the Alliance of Resuming British Sovereignty over Hong Kong and Independence (BSHI) and the Hong Kong Independence Party, call for the return of British rule.

According to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in July 2016, around a sixth of Hong Kong's population support the territory becoming an independent entity after 2047.[25]


Reasons that have been cited in favour of independence include:

  • Right to self-determination: Hong Kong people has the right to determine their own future as stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[23] Hong Kong was on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories which was given the right to achieve independence before it was taken down on the request of the People's Republic of China in 1972.
  • Lack of legitimacy of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law: Hong Kong people were barred from the negotiating process over the Sino-British Joint Declaration over Hong Kong's sovereignty in the 1980s and most Hong Kong people were also absent from drafting the Hong Kong Basic Law, the mini-constitution of the Hong Kong SAR.[26]
  • Unrepresentativeness of the Hong Kong government: the Chief Executive of Hong Kong is elected by the 1,200-member Election Committee which is dominated by Beijing and does not represent the general will of the Hong Kong people as criticised by the pro-democrats. About half of the seats in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong are elected through trade-based functional constituencies with limited electorates also heavily favour pro-Beijing politicians. The Hong Kong government is often criticised for listening only to Beijing and acting against Hong Kong's interests. Despite the historic Occupy protests in 2014 calling for genuine universal suffrage, the Hong Kong government refused to make any concession in the electoral reform.
  • Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong's autonomy: Chinese government's growing encroachment on the Hong Kong's management on its own political, economic, and social affairs and failed to deliver free election as promised in the Basic Law.[9][10] Beijing is also criticised for repeatedly violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the "One Country, Two Systems" as guaranteed by the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, as shown in the Liaison Office meddling in the local elections, the publication of the "One Country, Two Systems" white paper and the alleged abductions of the Causeway Bay booksellers.
  • Hong Kong's distinct identity: Hong Kong people are majority Cantonese speakers and write in traditional Chinese and English with heavy influence of western culture and values, including the respect for freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which is very different from Mainland China. They also perceived that the distinctive Hong Kong identity is under threat of the influx of the mainland immigrants and tourists as well as the "assimilation policies" of the Beijing government.

Opposition to independence[edit]

Chinese and Hong Kong governments[edit]

The Chinese government firmly opposes Hong Kong independence. Former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping opposed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's alternative proposals during the Sino-British negotiation in the early 1980s as he believed she "wanted to turn Hong Kong into some kind of an independent or semi-independent political entity".[27]

After the establishment of the Hong Kong National Party in March 2016, an editorial piece in the Chinese government-owned Global Times slammed the Hong Kong National Party by stating that it is "impossible to achieve" independence for Hong Kong and calling it "a practical joke" and "forefront of extremism".[28] The State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a statement through the official Xinhua News Agency condemning the party: "The action to establish a pro-independence organisation by an extremely small group of people in Hong Kong has harmed the country’s sovereignty, security, endangered the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, and the core interests of Hong Kong... It is firmly opposed by all Chinese people, including some seven million Hong Kong people. It is also a serious violation of the country’s constitution, Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the relevant existing laws."[29] The spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office stated that "[Beijing] will absolutely neither permit anyone advocating secession in Hong Kong nor allow any pro-independence activists to enter a government institution," after the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) interpret the Article 104 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong which aimed to disqualify the two Youngspiration legislators Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching.[20]

The Hong Kong government issued a statement after the formation of the Hong Kong National Party, stating that "any suggestion that Hong Kong should be independent or any movement to advocate such 'independence' is against the Basic Law, and will undermine the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and impair the interest of the general public… The SAR Government will take action according to the law."[29]

Political parties[edit]

The mainstream pan-democracy camp sympathised with the pro-independence cause but generally opposes Hong Kong independence as they do not think it will be beneficial to Hong Kong or it is practical or achievable.[24] They believe that to fight for genuine democracy and safeguard the high degree of autonomy under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle is the most foreseeable solution.

Although politicians and scholars like Chin Wan, Wong Yuk-man and Civic Passion's Wong Yeung-tat are seen as leading localist figures and have been close to the Hong Kong independence movement, they had also cut clear that they do not support Hong Kong independence. They fight for an amendment of the Basic Law through civil referendum to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy similar to that of Greenland's.[22]


The last British colonial governor Chris Patten opposes Hong Kong independence, worrying such activists would "dilute support" for democracy in Hong Kong: "[i]t would be dishonest, dishonourable and reckless of somebody like me, to pretend that the case for democracy should be mixed up with an argument about the independence of Hong Kong – something which is not going to happen, something which dilutes support for democracy, and something which has led to all sorts of antics which should not take place in a mature society aiming to be a full democracy."[30]


Reasons cited in favour of maintaining Hong Kong as part of China include:

  • Legality: The Article 1 of the Hong Kong Basic Law states that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. Any advocacy for Hong Kong separating from China has no legal basis.[24]
  • Same cultural origin and close connection: Majority of the people in Hong Kong are of Chinese origin which their parents or themselves migrated from the mainland, even some of the pro-independence activists such as Edward Leung were born in mainland China. Most parts of Hong Kong culture originated from China and are closely connected with Chinese history and culture, so as the prospects of Hong Kong and China are deeply connected.[24]
  • Benefits from China's growth: The economic growth and integration of Hong Kong and China have been largely mutually beneficial. China has become the crucial factor of Hong Kong's continuing economic growth and also the largest trading partner of Hong Kong. As China keeps rising as a potential superpower, Hong Kong people can continue to benefit from the growth of China.
  • "One Country, Two Systems": Hong Kong, along with Macau,[31] are the only territories in the People's Republic of China to supposedly enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" and freedom under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle as guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Hong Kong Basic Law. It is the system that can serve the best interest for Hong Kong people and safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, as well as individual liberties and the territory's autonomy in the long term if it is implemented properly.
  • Practicality: Hong Kong is a territory surrounded by China and lacks natural resources. It currently relies on China in terms of food, water and electricity supplies and will not be able to be self-sufficient without China. The Beijing government's zero tolerance on any secessionist movement also means that any move toward independence could mean bloodshed. The social stability and economic prosperity Hong Kong people have enjoyed for many years will have to be sacrificed. The probability of Hong Kong people achieving independence with violent means is low as Hong Kong separatists have no arms while China commands the largest army in the world and the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison stations in Hong Kong regularly.

See also[edit]

Other independence movements related to China[edit]


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