A choreographed mass-frenzy of mouth-frothing breaks out over the issue of Hong Kong independence. Hong Kong independence is impossible. Impossible impossible impossible impossible. Chinese senior legal expert Qiao Xiaoyang says so. Chief Executive CY Leung says so. HK University council chairman Arthur Li says so. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee says so. The Hong Kong government produces one of its cringe-making ‘all-purpose denial’ press releases solemnly confirming that full sovereignty is ‘not conducive’ to the city.
Why? No-one is seriously proposing or imagining otherwise. There are a few fringe enthusiasts who enjoy fantasizing about the post-2047 (and no doubt post-Communist party-state) world. But the Hong Kong independence ‘movement’ is essentially satirical and theatrical trolling. It is a brilliantly effective way to get Beijing’s undivided attention. At virtually no effort or cost, activists can totally freak out China’s paranoid officials and set off all the local shoe-shiners into the bargain.
They found this out in early 2015, when obscure student magazine Undergrad called for independence and CY did the hitherto unheard-of publication the honour of denouncing it by name prominently in his most important speech of the year. Now, with localism superseding the traditional pro-democracy movement, they are doing it again. Time is impressed. (To put it all in context, the South China Morning Post, no less, has a great analysis of the struggle over Hong Kong’s rule of law and other values. In a valiant attempt to stay young, cool and trendy, the Civic Party gets into the hip localist groove.)
In the Chinese system, a provincial governor who can’t keep his Tibetan or Uighur splittists in order is in for the chop. Beijing might give CY a bit of slack: he can’t censor/arrest/‘disappear’ evil CIA-backed hostile separatists as easily as his counterparts on the Mainland. But as local people become more outspoken and focused on autonomy and identity, it can only heighten fears in Beijing about Hong Kong’s current direction – for better or worse.
And then, at this very moment, the aforementioned Starry Lee steps down from the Executive Council. For a non-executive member, a seat on ExCo is a largely symbolic position – a pat on the head for obedience. Starry is titular boss of the DAB, which is the Communist Party’s main local front. She leaves two colleagues from the DAB/FTU stable on the Council.
You only thing you need to remember is that anything Starry says or does is following a script given to her by Beijing’s officials. If her departure is some sort of warning to CY, it is because the CCP told her to do it. If her departure is something else, it’s because the CCP told her to do it. (And there is no ‘race’ for CE, if that’s what you’re thinking…) True localists won’t waste their time right now trying to read too much into this.