Amid the euphoria of the convincing win by the democracy camp in this past September's Legislative Council elections, an uncertainty started to take hold as I listened to the elected localist candidates. For I heard in the chest puffing and grand enunciations of a move towards Hong Kong independence not excitement and joy, not the hubris of the young in victory, but Chia Ling, the prominent student leader in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The rhetoric of the localist or independence movement draws uneasy parallels with Chia Ling’s selfish attitude. While it was Deng who rolled out the tanks, and the hands of the CCP are heavily stained with the blood of Tiananmen, a lasting discredit to that protest was the unfortunately well-documented "common people as cannon fodder" attitude of Chia Ling. It is a message pro-Beijing forces exploit to this day, and apply, with some success, to our independence activists. Now, we are nowhere near a Tiananmen, but anyone who was not watching the PLA garrison the first nights of the Umbrella Movement of 2014 might not have a firm grasp of Chinese history.
I am in complete sympathy with our youth, who want more freedom for Hong Kong. I am no fan of our current system, have zero career options in China, am shunned by fellow expats and our clubs for my politics, get threats on a weekly basis, am followed, and even made the latest PRC anti-western propaganda video showcased in the New York Times. I am fine with all of it.
But what I am not fine with is walking the city I love into a wood shredder because a bunch of activists, some of whom cry at threats, throw temper tantrums because we cannot get the largest totalitarian regime in the world to work on our timetable.
Localists offer a false choice of "all or nothing". Their premise is that if we do not erect the barricades now we are doomed as our city is slowly overrun by mainlanders. It is not just that this is wrong, it is that this represents the radical partisan argument of "exclusion" by which they abdicate any responsibility to Hong Kong.
Old people are fools, the middle class is selfish, all business is corrupt, mainland arrivals do not count, and established democracy politicians are timid. I recently heard one independence activist accuse Apple Daily of being a government tool. Seriously?
When you disenfranchise the vast majority of a populace as unworthy, drastic action in favor of a greater good beyond the interests of the people becomes much more palatable. Hence the problem with our independence acolytes. Saving Hong Kong is not their cause, they are their cause.
Yes, Beijing has made unsettling inroads into our government, and yes we face pressure from the CCP at every turn. But it is also true we have turfed out Tung Chee-wah and Leung Chun-ying, we block quite effectively at LegCo, we have by far a greater resistance to Beijing influence among the people now than 5 or even 15 years ago, and despite Beijing's billions we have a vibrant, diverse, and new-tech media that Beijing does not control.
In other words, we are in the fight.
We have 30 years to try out new freedoms, secure rule of law, and keep our markets open and press free. But we could also go crazy and push independence, risking that at anytime China could crush all our freedoms with a PLA drive across the border.
President Xi and I will be dust by 2047, but the students of today will be our leaders in a modern economy where openness and information will be required. Time is on our side, not the Communists’.
Ours is a long game. It is a 30-year game that will take the faith of angels at times to see it through. A grinding slog is nowhere near as emotionally appealing as a call to the barricades, but freedom is a race won - with faith - by the strong and steady, not by throwing a fit.