Independence stone dead in water

Editorial | 1 Apr 2016

A former Occupy Central activist has launched Hong Kong National Party to push for independence.

However, that's akin to throwing a pebble in the water - after creating a few ripples, the stone sinks. Independence can never be a serious issue for people here.

Obviously, some radicals are doing everything they can to anger Beijing ahead of the Legislative Council election in September, knowing that the communists are extraordinarily sensitive about the term "independence."

However, Beijing's reaction has been surprisingly restrained. Instead, Xinhua News Agency spared just about 200 characters to denounce the move as harmful to national sovereignty and security.

Calling it a serious violation of the constitution and Basic Law, the official agency quoted the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office as saying it trusted the SAR government to handle the matter according to the law.

It was a delayed condemnation. Were it at another time, officials and the propaganda machinery would have acted immediately to denounce the new party in the strongest possible terms.

The response from the SAR's Department of Justice was equally cautious, saying it is inconsistent with the Basic Law to advocate independence, and action would be taken if necessary.

Hong Kong and Beijing officials know fully well independence is a non- issue - not even during the Legco election. They must have understood that apart from a few radicals, most pan-democrats won't be so foolish as to jump on the independence bandwagon to risk political suicide.

During the political conferences that concluded recently in the capital, Beijing leaders adjusted their high-handed approach toward the SAR. What we've heard from the mandarins about the Hong Kong National Party is a continuation of that policy, adjusted amid concerns that anything that smacks of ideological rants would only drive voters further into the embrace of the opposition side.

The situation could have been totally different had Article 23 of the Basic Law been given effect via local legislation.

University of Hong Kong law professor Johannes Chan Man-mun said the SAR enjoys freedom of speech, and nobody should be prosecuted simply for speaking their minds - unless one crosses the line to commit illegal acts, including the use of force.

It's plain to everybody this freedom must be safeguarded.

Under "one country, two systems," nobody should be fearful of what they say - no matter how offensive his or her comments may be to others. If the row spilled over to stifle freedom of speech, the damage will be genuine.

Perhaps that's what people advocating the Hong Kong National Party want. Social tensions will then be heightened, the community will disintegrate, and cries for independence will gain traction.

There is the ancient wisdom that soft strength can overcome hard power.

It's apparent officials have actually wised up, understanding that a violent crackdown on the so-called National Party will backfire to help it gather support in society.

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