Legco set to debate Benny Tai’s independence remark

Legislators will be having a debate over Hong Kong University Law Professor Benny Tai’s comments concerning the possibility of Hong Kong independence on May 9.


DAB’s Gary Chan and Civic Party’s Kwok Ka-Ki had both called for an adjournment debate on the same issue. Kwok’s motion is to accuse and condemn the government of suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of academic research exercised by Benny Tai, while Chan’s motion is to condemn Tai on attempts to ‘promote’ Hong Kong independence. LegCo’s House Committee voted down Kwok’s motion.

Gary Chan believes that Legco members should be given a chance to declare their stance on Hong Kong independence. Legislators from the pro-democratic camp also see this debate as an opportunity to raise people’s awareness on freedom of speech.

“An adjournment debate will be an opportunity for all the councillors to speak on behalf of freedom of speech and freedom of academic research,” said Kwok Ka-Ki.

Benny Tai provoked controversy when he suggested that people of Hong Kong could consider independence as one of the options if China has democracy. The remarks were made at a human rights seminar in Taiwan organised by the Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps.

What he said

“所以在中國大陸,現在不同的族群 … 也可以決定 … 用什麼關係大家連繫在一起,我們可以考慮成為獨立的國家,我們可以考慮成為一個聯邦的一個部份,我們也可以考慮好像歐盟那種邦聯的一個部份,這個就是「民主自決」,但是這個民主自決就是透過這個族群,每一個人平等的權利去決定他們的前途是怎麼樣,這個也是伸展到香港將來的未來是怎麼樣。

In China, different ethnic groups can now decide how they should all be connected. We can consider being independent, or part of a federation or a confederation like the European Union. This is “democratic self-determination”, through which each person in the ethnic groups can exercise their rights equally to decide how the future should be. This also extends to how Hong Kong should be in the future,” said Tai.

Tai made the remark assuming China became democratic.

The remark that mentioned independence as an option was widely reported and has received strong reactions from government, pro-establishment politicians, mainland mouthpieces and other pro-Beijing bodies. The HKSAR government issued a statement stating it was ‘shocked’ that a university teaching staff would make such remarks and strongly condemned it. The PRC government, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government also issued statements condemning Tai of acting against the national constitution.

Unhappy with Benny

Criticism led by state media generated controversy by accusing Tai of sabotaging the ‘One Country Two System’ framework and attempting to seize control of HKSAR’s administrative power. HKU is under pressure to oust Tai from his university post. The pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong also condemned Tai, and stated that Hong Kong should enact Article 23, the national security law that prohibit acts of treason against the Central government.

Tai denied any attempts to promote Hong Kong independence; he stressed that independence is only one of the options should the people of Hong Kong get to decide in a possible future political system. Tai also claims that the controversy is an orchestrated plot to make an example of him in order to silence other discussions on Hong Kong’s political future. He cites the old Chinese idiom that the government is killing a chicken to scare the monkeys. Tai also suspects that such strong reactions is aimed to pave the way for a much tougher version of Article 23 legislation to be imposed on Hong Kong.

Defending free speech

The pro-democracy camp defended Benny Tai for exercising his freedom of speech and accused the government for ignoring the context of Tai’s remarks. A protest was organised on April 2 to support Tai and to defend the freedom of speech.

“This is an organised attempt to single out Benny Tai to deter the public from participating in the democratic progress of Hong Kong”, said the protest organiser Avery Ng, chairman of League of Social Democrats.

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