Just as local officials have a hissy fit over the ‘N’ word in Taiwan universities’ names, young rebels decide to launch the Hong Kong National Party. Its aim: no less than to declare a Hong Kong Republic. This is going to go down like a cup of cold sick.
The South China Morning Post dutifully extracts disdainful quotes from patriots and commentators so it can report an outbreak of ‘scorn’ in response to the new group. By writing that the party ‘claims’ to be self-funded, the paper also implicitly suggests that evil hostile foreign forces are backing the group. If anything, the new political party will further splinter and cannibalize the existing pro-dem/indigenous/youth support base.
As well as antagonizing Beijing and its local loyalists, HKNP will challenge the local government’s already-weakening commitment to freedom of expression and rule of law. For example, in deference to Beijing’s hyper-sensitivity about splittists, local bureaucrats will be ordered to make life difficult for the HKNP if the group takes part in elections.
The extreme impracticality of the HKNP’s aim will make ordinary localism seem all the more moderate and mainstream. In order to counter the appeal of this rising movement, the pro-Beijing camp has to establish its own nativist credentials, hence calls for action against economic migrants posing as asylum seekers. This puts the loyalists at odds with the Hong Kong government, which is subject to international agreements on refugees. It also raises the possibility of the pro-Beijing camp going further off-script in exploring more ways to appeal to the Hongkongers-first vote.
The hapless CY Leung administration is already having difficulties keeping its supposed supporters in line. The boss of the Central Policy Unit calls out pro-government lawmakers for using pro-democrats’ filibustering as an excuse to goof off. Which of course they do – but who wouldn’t, in their shoes? Already hated for their association with an unpopular Chief Executive, the pro-Beijing parties are miffed at the criticism, and quite rightly so. You almost feel sorry for them.
It looks chaotic. But if we put all this in perspective, Hong Kong seems relatively sane. It is up north where things are really starting to look unhinged.
We are familiar locally with the Chinese leadership’s derangement when it comes to the subject of books. The (‘alleged’) abductions, forced confessions and apparent intimidation/blackmailing of the famous five booksellers have been accompanied by other curbs on the publishing industry. Some bookshops have stopped selling sensitive titles, and Chinese state-controlled firms have been displacing independent book retailers for some time – most recently at the airport.
Although Hong Kong feels threatened, it’s nothing personal. This is part of a broader, increasingly frantic top-level obsession with information and opinion. Beijing’s propaganda officials seem to have gone from pushing the official line to eliminating anything that isn’t the official line.
Xi Jinping’s February visit to China’s top media operations signified even greater centralization of thought. Some sort of backlash ensues. Outspoken individuals like tycoon Ren Zhiqiang are silenced. A Caixin magazine op-ed about censorship is itself censored. Pop songs praising Xi appear. Several newspapers suffer mysterious typos and juxtapositions that happen to protest the government. Then a letter calling for Xi’s resignation surfaces on-line. A more-sinister-than-average round-up of suspects takes place. Just in case there’s any doubt that the core leadership is in full freak-out mode, the security apparatus kidnaps overseas critics’ family members.
We cannot tell what is happening. Is this just the way Xi is – a new megalomaniac Mao? Or is he clamping down more than he ‘usually’ would because he fears unrest as China’s economy hits the rocks? The most likely explanation may be that a power-struggle in Beijing is provoking the ruling faction into lashing out like a cornered beast. Hong Kong books on Xi’s lovers, the newspaper typos and the anti-Xi letter didn’t happen by accident. And the fact that the regime resorts to kidnapping and undisguised thuggery suggests that it feels it is fighting for its life, not just implementing a plain everyday paranoid Communist Party clampdown.
Hong Kong might want to keep its head down. This is probably not the best time to start up an avowedly pro-independence political party.