Denied the opportunity to stand for parliament earlier this month, the Hong Kong political party that advocates independence from China is now setting its sights on winning support from high school and university students.

Hong Kong National Party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin (陳浩天) was one of six anti-Beijing candidates blocked from the Sept. 4 Legislative Council elections. Chan, who has filed a petition against that ruling, says the party is now focused on building support for Hong Kong independence among the younger generation and is already talking to groups from 80 high schools.

“We will focus on students – secondary school students, university students – because they are our future,” Chan told The News Lens International from Hong Kong. “At this moment they are just students, but after a few years, maybe they are professionals, we don’t know.”

Despite being unable to compete in the election itself, HKNP, which was established in March, had a “great impact” on the campaign and the wider Hong Kong society, Chan says.

“Hong Kong independence was taboo before. We broke that taboo,” he says. “Now everyone has shifted to discuss Hong Kong independence and the future of Hong Kong.”

The election saw a record voter turnout and, importantly, the election of five newcomer candidates who are “committed to Hong Kong localism in terms both of grassroots social concerns and political self-determination,” as Hong Kong academic and political commentator Suzanne Pepper describes.

Prior to the election a high school group, Studentlocalism (學生動), drew the ire of Hong Kong chief executive C.Y. Leung (梁振英) after it called on high school students to set up their own associations to promote independence from China. Leung responded by suggesting teenage advocates of independence could “pay a heavy price.” Education officials moved to stop teachers from promoting the idea of Hong Kong seceding from China.

Chan says many high school students – who “have a lot of imagination about Hong Kong’s future” – have become “curious” as to why they are not allowed to talk about the issue.

“The government, the schools, the media, always talk about Hong Kong independence,” he says. “They say you can’t talk about Hong Kong independence inside schools, so it provokes students to talk more about Hong Kong independence.”

Chan, who was distributing political leaflets yesterday, says he still often has to explain to high school students "what Hong Kong independence actually is.”

“They have heard about it so many times,” he says. “But they don’t know if it means Hong Kong will be an independent country, or still ‘one-country two systems,’ or what.”

While HKNP wants to attract as many students as it can to the idea of independence “as early as possible,” it is supporting, not organizing, groups like Studentlocalism, Chan says, noting that the party wants such groups to have “autonomy.”

Meanwhile, at university level, students are now discussing “how to execute [gaining independence], how to push forward, how to actually put it into reality,” Chan says.

HKNP is aiming to help pro-independence supporters win seats in university student unions.

The party, which is not yet a legal entity, is also “going back and forth” with Hong Kong’s company registry – which handles the registration of political parties.

The discourse around Hong Kong independence has been opposed by the ruling pro-Beijing political factions. The fact that Hong Kong’s politically active youth – who attracted so much attention during the 2014 Umbrella Movement and have now gained a foothold in the legislature – are now taking to the idea, will surely be causing headaches.

Chief Executive Leung, when talking about the independence issue on Aug. 30, said there was “no doubt about right or wrong when it comes to ‘Hong Kong independence,’ as secession contravenes the Basic Law and Hong Kong’s constitutional status.”

He said that as chief executive he was “obliged to caution against the emergence of separation and secession ideas in the community,” and “schools should take a clear stance on the matter.”

Chan, whose role at HKNP is full-time, says that while the party is still not receiving “much” financial support, it has enough funding to keep operating for the foreseeable future.

He says that while he has not personally faced harassment or physical attacks, his email account and other electronic messages have been hacked.

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