OPINION: Is Hong Kong Heading Toward Umbrella 2.0?

OPINION: Is Hong Kong Heading Toward Umbrella 2.0?
Photo Credit : REUTERS/達志影像

What you need to know

Will the barring of candidates from Hong Kong’s upcoming elections or the sentencing of Umbrella Movement leaders spark a fresh round of major protests?

Members of two of Hong Kong’s political parties who wanted to run in the September Legislative Council (LegCo) elections have blocked by election officials. Pro-independence candidate Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) leader Andy Chan (陳浩天) and "localist" Yeung Ke-cheong (楊繼昌) of the Democratic Progressive Party of Hong Kong have been disqualified.

The move is unlikely to be a surprise to the candidates themselves – HKNP has not yet successfully registered as an official political party – and supporters are already talking about not only challenging these decisions in court, but also potentially taking to the streets in protest.

Until recently, it has been difficult to gauge just how fringe these groups, and the views they support, really are. However, in a recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 17% of respondents said they supported independence after 2047 – when Hong Kong’s current constitutional arrangements, in place since the 1997 handover from the U.K. to China, expire.

This number may have surprised some people, including even people in groups like HKNP, which are relatively new to Hong Kong’s political scene. Still, it should still be noted that more than half the respondents said they did not support independence and more than 80% thought attaining independence would not be possible.

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Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
Protesters holding yellow umbrellas gather to observe a moment of silence to mark the first anniversary of "Umbrella Movement" outside the government headquarter in Hong Kong, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. A year earlier, Hong Kong's famously busy streets were shut down by pro-democracy activists who occupied them for 79 days in what became known as the "Umbrella Movement." The protests were led by students and other activists who took to the streets to voice their opposition against Beijing's plan to restrict elections for top leader of the semiautonomous Chinese city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

There are fears in Hong Kong that the fragmentation among the pro-democracy parties will inadvertently split the vote and be advantageous to pro-Beijing candidates. However, as with many minor parties, in running for the election HKNP may not ever have had the goal of joining LegCo and forcing change from within. Perhaps the election was always more about the public platform it would offer to help promote its ideas.

Despite being barred and certainly only being a minor player at this stage, the ongoing litigation and protests may still provide HKNP an opportunity to spread its message.

The question now is whether that 17%, which likely comprises mostly young people, are willing to make their voices heard, be it at the polls or on the streets.

One HKNP supporter told The News Lens International in Hong Kong last week why the party was confident it could motivate Hong Kong’s young people.

“Young people don’t like to be restricted. If you restrict them, they will be more likely to respond,” he said.

As student leader Nathan Law (羅冠聰) said in an interview with TNLI in Hong Kong, there is an attractive simplicity in the idea of independence – Law, a candidate for Hong Kong Island, and his party Demosistō is pushing for a somewhat milder goal of self-determination after 2047.

And Law, talking about global interest in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Movement, also succinctly noted, “The whole world is watching Hong Kong, because it reflects the attitude of the Chinese Communist Party towards human rights and towards our freedom. It is an indicator of how brutal or unreasonable the Communist Party is.”

With the world watching, Chan, the HKNP and subsequently the goal of Hong Kong independence looks set to continue to enjoy increasing local and international media interest.

As for Law and Demosistō, they too are promising legal challenges – Law is awaiting sentencing for inciting an unauthorized assembly on Sept. 26, 2014 – in the lead up to the Sunflower Movement. Fellow pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) and Alex Chow (周永康) have also been found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly.

A heavy jail sentence for Law would almost certainly stop Demosistō competing in the election. He and fellow Demosistō leaders, including Wong, have proven their abilities to draw thousands to the streets and have not ruled out civil disobedience, when absolutely necessary. Will they see a need to do it again?

The HKNP supporter suggested, “If Hong Kong people want to make change, they have to bear some risk.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole