Young Hong Kongers seek­ing new path in democ­racy bat­tle

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY DENNIS CHONG AND AARON TAM

With the de­feat this week of the Bei­jing-backed po­lit­i­cal re­form plan they slammed as “fake democ­racy,” Hong Kong’s young protesters are ques­tion­ing how to take their fight for­ward as the gulf be­tween them and main­land China widens.

The pro­posal would have al­lowed res­i­dents to vote for Hong Kong’s chief ex­ec­u­tive for the first time — cur­rently the leader is cho­sen by a pro-Bei­jing elec­tion com­mit­tee.

But the plan stuck to a rul­ing by Bei­jing that all can­di­dates would be vet­ted, a de­ci­sion that sparked mass stu­dent-led protests at the end of last year.

Ul­ti­mately the re­form bill was voted down 28 to eight by law­mak­ers Thurs­day.

How­ever while pro-democ­racy cam­paign­ers out­side the leg­is­la­ture cheered at the re­sult, young protesters are in­creas­ingly forg­ing their own path.

In the wake of last year’s street ral­lies, they say they iden­tify less as Chi­nese and have lit­tle faith that try­ing to col­lab­o­rate with Bei­jing will lead to the free­dom they seek.

“When it comes to the dis­cus­sion of democ­racy, vot­ing rights, the right to be nom­i­nated, it is a kind of civil right in so­ci­ety,” said Billy Fong, pres­i­dent of the Hong Kong Univer­sity ( HKU) Stu­dents’ Union.

“This right only be­longs to those cit­i­zens in Hong Kong, not peo­ple liv­ing north of the Shen­zhen river,” said Fong, re­fer­ring to the wa­ter­way that di­vides Hong Kong from the main­land.

Un­der Fong’s lead­er­ship, the HKU Stu­dents’ Union broke away from Hong Kong’s an­nual Tianan­men Square vigil this year.

In­stead it held its own, smaller event, say­ing it no longer agreed with the or­ga­niz­ers’ strat­egy to push for de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion in China as a way to win free­doms for Hong Kong.

“Hong Kongers will dis­tance them­selves from China. We don’t share a con­sen­sus,” said stu­dent Jamie Wong, 18.

“We need to mo­bi­lize more peo­ple to con­front the author­i­ties.”

Alien­ation Risk

Stu­dent Les­lie Mak, 19, said she be­lieved “there was still hope” for democ­racy, but felt an iden­tity shift af­ter the mass ral­lies.

“My feel­ing about be­ing Chi­nese is blur­ring. I feel strongly about be­ing a Hong Konger,” Mak told AFP.

Mak agrees with a new call by younger gen­er­a­tions to amend Hong Kong’s mini-con­sti­tu­tion, the Ba­sic Law, which they feel re­stricts demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment.

Stu­dents at the main Tianan­men vigil in the city’s Vic­to­ria Park this year burned copies of the Ba­sic Law on­stage.

There is also in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble re­sent­ment to­wards China out­side the po­lit­i­cal arena, from protests against traders in bor­der towns to the boo­ing of the Chi­nese na­tional an­them when it was played to rep­re­sent Hong Kong at a re­cent World Cup qual­i­fy­ing soc­cer match.

Fans at the match held up tow­els which read “Fight for Hong Kong.”

That in­ci­dent fol­lowed heavy crit­i­cism of a poster by the Chi­nese soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tion which warned against the “black, white and yel­low” of Hong Kong’s multi-eth­nic team.

“This alien­ation from the mother­land and fo­cus on core Hong Kong val­ues will con­tinue and will win more sup­port­ers,” pre­dicted Willy Lam, a pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

“Now most young peo­ple re­al­ize they may not see a demo­cratic China within their life­time so they want to fo­cus on Hong Kong,” Lam said.

The main­stream democ­racy cam­paign risks los­ing the sup­port of young­sters en­tirely af­ter achiev­ing no con­ces­sions from Bei­jing, added an­a­lyst Ma Ngok.

“There will be some groups, es­pe­cially younger groups, who think that they need to be more rad­i­cal, more con­fronta­tional. Main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties will find it dif­fi­cult to mo­bi­lize young peo­ple for the next (dis­trict and par­lia­men­tary) elec­tions,” said Ma.

“Most of the older gen­er­a­tion still see them­selves as Chi­nese, but the young say ‘we are Hong Kongese.’”

But while they are keen to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves, Ma says there is lit­tle gen­uine de­sire among the city’s young to break away from Bei­jing.

“They feel they were promised har­mony ... but are see­ing more con­trol. It’s like a very strin­gent fa­ther.

“They don’t think: ‘We are go­ing to form an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, or an in­de­pen­dent state.’ “They just want to be left alone. “To put it very sim­ply, they want to be free.”

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