Hong Kong: a city or a nation after 2047?

By Shun Hei Janice LAM

“One Country, Two Systems” is a constitutional principle that was agreed between Britain and China in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984. It guaranteed that, after Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, the socialist system in China would not practice in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and Hong Kong’s previous legislative, political and capitalist economic systems would remain unchanged for 50 years until 2047. However, as China keeps interfering Hong Kong’s local affairs and tightening its grip over the territory in recent years, there are increasing concerns in Hong Kong that the political and human rights are being whittled away. There are a growing number of young people demanding more autonomy, or even independence from China. According to a recent survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, nearly 40% of the young people in Hong Kong supported independence from China after 2047. Today the debate over Hong Kong independence is heating up.

It has not only stirred up controversy in Hong Kong, but also gained global attention to its concerns. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s “Can Hong Kong break free of China?” and Mark C. Eades’ “Beijing Frets Over Hong Kong Independence Movement” are two opinion pieces that show support to the pro-independence movement, while Frank Ching’s “HK’s dangerous pipe-dream: Independence” and Regina Ip’s “No case for Hong Kong secession” are another two opinion pieces that oppose to Hong Kong’s separatism from China. This article will provide a close analysis of these articles by looking into how the authors mount their arguments towards the independence of Hong Kong, as well as how they evaluate and characterise the current government of China. This analysis will support the primary conclusion that although the pieces show different viewpoints towards the talk of Hong Kong independence, the authors of the articles argue to their readers under the same assumption that Hong Kong independence movement is at a nascent stage and has a very difficult road ahead of it. Also, the authors attempted to position their readers to have different views towards the China under Xi Jinping’s government.

By looking into the way the authors mount their arguments, it can be observed that they have different standpoints and different anticipated audience.

First, let’s take a look at Gobry’s piece, which supports Hong Kong to separate from China. It is an argumentative piece that uses appeals to fact and authority to justify and back up his central claim: City-states are the future of Hong Kong as China has been cracking down.

“In 2014, a decision by the Chinese Communist Party to start vetting candidates for elections prompted the ‘umbrella movement,’ a series of sit-ins and protests that froze the city for months.”

This appeal to fact makes the bifurcation between Hong Kong and China stands out, where “Hongkongers” expect a high degree of autonomy when China wanted to take control over Hong Kong and only allow selected Chief Executive candidates to be elected by the universal suffrage.

“Chinese dissidents living in Hong Kong, who used to be able to rely on safety, have been running into “accidents” – or disappearing.”

This justification is reinforced through the case of Lam Wing-kee, the seller of books critical of China who disappeared and was only allowed to return to Hong Kong after months of detention and alleged torture. This is obvious evidence that shows China has violated the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” by breaking the notification mechanism between the Mainland authorities and Hong Kong, which supports his claim that China is cracking down and effective in convincing his readers.

 

“A recent poll found the number of Hong Kong residents who say they ‘feel Chinese” has dropped to a record low.”

This appeal to authority (The University of Hong Kong) indicates the identity issues take place in Hong Kong, which fewer people in Hong Kong recognise themselves as Chinese, proving that they think Hong Kong is not necessarily a part of China.

From these justifications and supporting claims appealing to fact and authority, it is plausible that Gobry anticipates an audience that is in opposition to his standpoints, as he is trying to convince his readers by using facts and reliable statistics.

Conversely, although Eades’ piece also shows support to the independence movement, unlike Gobry’s, it is largely opinionated, as he expects an audience that is aligned with his viewpoints. Its central claim is clearly stated in the article: “If only as a symbolic or strategic move aimed at resisting mainland Chinese authoritarianism, the growth of Hong Kong’s independence movement is a welcome development and deserves the support of democracy-loving people everywhere.” However, he argues with some presumed evaluation without providing supporting arguments to back up his claims:

“China ‘destroys freedom’ in the territory.”

 

“An increasingly arrogant China has violated all of the pledges it made regarding democracy, press freedom, and freedom of expression in the handover agreement with Britain.”

 

“Britain does still have a role to play in Hong Kong under the handover agreement, but blinded by the yuan signs in its eyes, it has utterly failed to do so.”

Eades is trying not only to blame the cause on China but also Britain, suggesting both China and Britain fail to adhere the handover agreement. However, he only glosses over China’s authoritarianism and Britain’s ignorance to the agreement without providing details, which is inferable that Eades assumes his readers are aligned with his point of views, he, therefore, needs not to provide evidence to sway them.

Now, let’s take a look at Ching’s piece, which, similar to China’s perspective, sees the talk of Hong Kong Independence as a threat. Its central claim is explicitly expressed in the article: Hong Kong can be independence only if China wants to expel it and its 7.2 million people from the Chinese nation, which seems highly unlikely. It is strongly argumentative with appeals to fact and authority, as well as appeals to comparison.

“State leader Zhang Dejiang declared during a visit in May that ‘one country, two systems’ is a national policy and will not change.

 

“Chinese officials point to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitutional document where its first Article says: ‘The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.’”

These justifications show that Ching is trying to argue to the opposing readers that Hong Kong independence is not practicable regards to the law. Besides, Ching also appeals to comparison by comparing the case of Hong Kong to some independence movements took place in other territories, so as to convince the readers that Hong Kong independence is not feasible. For instance, he compares Hong Kong to the cases with poor prospects of success including Scotland, as well as Philippines and Myanmar. He also compares Hong Kong to the succeeded cases that are strewn with bodies such as Bangladesh and East Timor. After all, he points out:

 

“But Hong Kong relies on China for most of its water and for much of its food. Hong Kong can only become independent with China’s blessing, which seems highly unlikely.”

He adds, “which seems highly unlikely” in addition to the “only” situation that he personally thinks is practicable, which shows that Eades himself doesn’t think Hong Kong can become independent, and, as he mentions in the headlines, independence is only a “pipe-dream”. By backing up his central claim, he appeals to fact, authority and comparison to eliminate any “possible” cases for Hong Kong to become independent, arguing to his anticipated audience who is in opposition to his standpoint.

Similarly, Ip’s article, which is in opposition to the call for Hong Kong independence, also expects readers who support the independence movement. Its central claim is, again, explicitly stated in the article: calls for Hong Kong independence are absurd. The article is strongly argumentative as she appeals to fact and authority to back up her central claim, and counter-argues to the opposing arguments.

“It is a drastic response to an unjust situation, and can only be justified where are extreme circumstances, such as genocide, cultural annihilation or unacceptable oppression of fundamental rights and freedoms. Such circumstances clearly do not exist in Hong Kong.”

 

“As Hong Kong has been an inalienable part of China from early times, a case for Hong Kong’s secession cannot be made out.”

However, to persuade and argue to the readers that are in opposition to her viewpoints, she neglects the arguing point that China is gradually damaging the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” and whittling away people’s rights and freedoms, trying to argue to her readers that there is no “unacceptable” oppression of fundamental rights and freedoms. In other words, she commits the current oppression from China and thinks that is acceptable.

 

“Hong Kong already has a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law, over and above that enjoyed by any other city or province in China or other country.”

She also attempts to compare the situation of Hong Kong to that of other city and province in China, which is a false analogy. As mentioned above, the principle “One Country, Two Systems” committed Hong Kong as a distinct Chinese region, which is not comparable to other provinces in China. Moreover, she emphasises a higher degree of autonomy in Hong Kong in comparison to the past times and other provinces, trying to divert readers’ attention from the current undermined rights and freedoms. We can, therefore, see that she anticipates an audience who support the independence movement, and tries to convince them Hong Kong is better to stay under the shadow of China.

Interestingly, although the authors expect different audiences and hold different standpoints towards the talk of Hong Kong independence, they argue to their readers under the same assumption that the independence movement is at a nascent stage and unlikely to succeed.

In Gobry’s piece, he supports the independence movement as he suggests:

“Hong Kong is more Hong Kong than China.”

 

“It has its own history, its own culture, its own people, its own problem.”

 

He even ends his article with a strong statement:

“Long live Hong Kong independence.”

However, when it comes to the feasibility of the independence, he says:

“The movement is still fringe.”

 

“The pro-independence movement has a very difficult road ahead of it.”

Supporting with the example of Taiwan, which China still claims it as their territory, and hasn’t gotten over their independence decades ago. China also breaks off relationships with any country that recognises Taiwan as a country, showing that even if Hong Kong declares to be independence, China is not likely to prove or recognise it as a nation. Therefore, we can see that although Gobry supports the movement, he does not think the independence of Hong Kong is likely to be recognised by China and other countries.

In Eades’ article, similar to Gobry’s, he shows support to the movement as he says:

“The growth of Hong Kong’s independence movement is a welcome development and deserves the support of democracy-loving people everywhere.”

 

“The growing independence movement has nonetheless succeeded in upsetting China’s dictators and bringing global attention once again to Hong Kong’s concerns.”

 

“There is no point whatsoever in politely asking China’s dictators for the freedom, democracy, and autonomy to which Hong Kong is entitled under the Sino-British handover agreement.”

However, when he talks about the practicability of Hong Kong independence, he says:

“An independent Hong Kong may be ‘easier said than done’.”

 

“Unfortunately, full independence for Hong Kong seems an unlikely prospect.”

 

“The point here is not to find a “compromise” that the dictatorship can feel comfortable with, but to wage a fight for democracy and to win.”

 

Eades thinks that “full independence for Hong Kong” is unlikely to succeed, as the current movement is at a nascent stage, which can only increase pressure on China, but is not effective to claim their freedom, democracy and autonomy.

Meanwhile, in Ching and Ip’s pieces, both of them oppose to the movement and think that Hong Kong independence from China is not practicable.

In Ching’s article, he describes the independence movement as a “pipe-dream”, which clearly shows his point of views – Hong Kong independence from China is impossible and the talk of it is prattle.

When Hong Kong government and China suggest that the mere discussion of independence is dangerous, Ching says:

“The government should welcome discussion because pro-independence advocates will have to defend a proposition that, on the face of it, is indefensible.”

 

This clearly indicates that he thinks the talk of independence is indefensible which the localists would not be able to support their arguments and standpoints.

In Ip’s piece, she says:

“In terms of practicality, Hong Kong independence would not be feasible, as any attempt by Hong Kong break away from Chin would be vetoed by China as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.”

 

“The holy frail of Hong Kong people’s quest for self-determination should be universal suffrage in accordance with the terms of the Basic Law, not secession which is neither constitutional nor practically feasible.”

 

She suggests that Hong Kong independence is not the way for Hong Kong people to seek for rights and freedoms, people should, instead, agree with the universal suffrage that she claims to be “in accordance with the terms of the Basic Law”, which the Chief Executive candidates from Democratic party would be censored out before the election, making sure that the Chief Executive-to-be-elected will align with the communist party.

Therefore, we can conclude that Gobry, Ching and Ip anticipated audiences that are in opposition to their viewpoints, while Eades expects his audience to align with his standpoints. Meanwhile, they argue to their readers under the same assumption that Hong Kong independence movement is at a nascent stage and has a very difficult road ahead of it.

Other than holding different standpoints and anticipating different audiences, the authors also attempt to position their audience to take different views toward the current government of China.

In Gobry’s article, he says:

 

“To say China is irredentist is to put it mildly.”

 

“Xi Jinping’s government, far from embracing a putative trend towards a political opening in China following the economic opening, has concentrated power and embraced authoritarianism to an extent unseen since at least Tian An Men.”

 

“A Chinese prosecutor’s office darkly warned that Hong Kong independence would turn the peninsula ‘into Syria’.”

Gobry is trying to tell the audience, through these statements, that the current government of China becomes a lot more autocratic than in the past times, to an extent that the term ‘irredentist’ is not able to well-describe its dictatorship, and to an extent that is unseen since the Massacre in Tiananmen Square. Along with the justifications provided to prove the growing concentrated power of China, Audience is being positioned to take a negative view of Xi Jinping’s government with respect to its morality and credibility, which the government is trying to strengthen their power without considering people’s voices and keeping their promises.

Similarly, in Eades’ piece, he says:

“An independence Hong Kong may be ‘easier said than done’ given China’s grip on the territory, threats of criminal charges against activists, and even of sending in Chinese troops if the territory were to actually declare independence.”

 

“An increasingly arrogant China has violated all of the pledges it made regarding democracy, press freedom, and freedom of expression in the handover agreement with Britain.”

 

These statements, again, position the readers to take a negative view of the current government of China with respect to its morality and credibility, as it gives a sense to the audience that the China government’s tyranny neglect the safety and human rights of its people, and would send troops to attack its people, as if a repeat of the Massacre in Tiananmen Square.

He also says:

 

“…and despite China’s annoying ‘benefactor mentality,’ the mainland deserves no credit for it whatsoever.”

 

“Beijing’s ‘father knows best’ routine with Hong Kong is unjustified and absurd.”

 

“How could there be, when the dictators are incapable of even comprehending them as anything but an object of fear?”

 

Eades attempts to tell his audience that the current government of China put itself in a privileged position that it does not deserve, criticising its “benefactor mentality” and “father knows best” routine over Hong Kong, which is annoying, unjustified and absurd. It can be observed that he is trying to position the audience to take a negative view towards the Xi Jinping’s government with respect to its capability, showing that the government is incapable.

As the student activists in Hong Kong have been accused of “treason” and “sedition” and attacked as “useless young people with “personality disorders” by the Chinese government through its media, he says:

“Perhaps someone should tell China that ‘great powers’ don’t sit and throw temper tantrums full of threats and insults at people who disagree with them.”

It satirically condemns that China, as a country that believes itself to be the ‘great power’, should listen to people’s voice, instead of insulting them. It also positions the audience to take a negative view towards the current government of China, because rather than taking different opinions, they choose to oppress people’s right to express.

Conversely, in Ching and Ip’s piece, China is being shaped as a country with great power and abundant resources that protect Hong Kong, which Hong Kong people should be grateful for it.

Ching says in his article:

“But Hong Kong relies on China for most of its water and for much of its food. Hong Kong can only become independent with China’s blessing.”

He emphasises Hong Kong’s reliance on China’s food, water and power, which Hong Kong can only survive under China’s resources and power. It tells the audience that, unlike the Gobry and Eades’ viewpoints, China’s ‘great power’ benefits Hong Kong and its people. He also says:

“Hong Kong is tiny compared with the mainland, in all respects. It has no army of its own.”

 

This shows a completely different point of views to Eades’ argument:

“Hong Kong’s history has left it a far more advanced society in every respect than mainland China.”

Eades’ argument compared Hong Kong to Mainland in terms of their quality, while Ching’s argument compared Hong Kong to Mainland in terms of their quantity in different respects. It emphasises how big and strong China’s power and resources are, which position the readers to take a positive view towards the current government of China with respect to its competence.

Finally, in Ip’s article,

“Hong Kong has been dependent on the Chinese mainland for the supply of water and import of foods, especially fresh food.”

 

“The mainland is Hong Kong’s largest trade and investment partner. As more than 70 percent of the publicly listed companies in Hong Kong are mainland-related,”

 

Again, similar to Ching’s piece, besides the food and water supplied by China, Ip also emphasises Hong Kong’s economic reliance on China, suggesting Hong Kong will not be able to survive without being a part of China.

She also says:

“Hong Kong already has a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law, over and above that enjoyed by any other city or province in China or other country.”

 

“Hong Kong would unlikely be more secure without the protection provided by the defense forces of China.”

These statements suggest that the power and resource of China are inevitable to Hong Kong. She also highlights the higher degree of autonomy in Hong Kong. It tells the audience that China allows more freedom in Hong Kong than other province, positioning them to take a positive view towards Xi Jinping’s government.

Therefore, it is plausible that Gobry and Eades position their audience to take a negative view towards the current government of China regarding its poor morality, credibility and capability; while Ching and Ip positions their audience to take a positive view towards Xi Jinping’s government by emphasising its competence and capability, and shaping it as the reason why Hong Kong is now a thriving city.

From the comparison and close analysis of the four opinion pieces that advance opposed viewpoints, it is evident that although the pieces show opposing viewpoints towards the talk of Hong Kong independence, the authors of the articles argue to their readers under the same assumption that Hong Kong independence movement is at a nascent stage and has a very difficult road ahead of it. In addition, the authors attempt to position their readers to have different views towards the China under Xi Jinping’s government. For instance, the articles that show support to the movement are trying to emphasise the negative perspectives of China, telling the audience how the over-autocratic government whittled away people’s right and neglect their safety, while the pieces in opposition to the movement position their audience to take a positive view to the government by shaping it as the “saviour” of Hong Kong.

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