For the first time, representatives from three prominent localist groups joined together, not on the street but instead at a Harbour Times Happy Hour, explaining the idea of localism to those who don’t have the word in their dictionaries.
Photo: (From left to right) Mr Baggio Leung (Youngspiration), Mr Edward Leung (Hong Kong Indigenous), and Dr Cheng Chung-tai (Civic Passion).
Hong Kong Indigenous
Kicking off the evening was Mr Edward Leung, spokesperson for Hong Kong Indigenous (HKI), explaining the group’s raison d’être with a bible quote, “So we fix our eyes on not what is seen, but on what is unseen, it seems what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18) The unseen, refers to what he calls “Civic Nationalism”.
Being one of the many groups who have emerged after the Umbrella Movement, Ray Wong (who was also present), convenor and founder of HKI, saw a need for new ways of protest against what they see as the eroding autonomy of Hong Kong.
“We want to build an autonomous Hong Kong. We do not want to witness the decline of hk; we are here to stop it,” he said.
Mr Edward Leung cited the example of the ongoing saga at the University of Hong Kong. The university’s decision making body has delayed the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan as pro-vice chancellor. Students and alumni believe the Council, with several members appointed by CY Leung, has done so due to Chan’s close ties with Occupy Central convenor Benny Tai. University students, angry at another delay, stormed a council meeting the night before the Happy Hour.
“They would rather use police force to solve the problem. No, I should say, they use the police to suppress the people who mention the problem.” – Edward Leung, Spokesperson for Hong Kong Indigenous
According to Mr Edward Leung, the incident is part of a phenomenon that happened soon after the handover of hong kong. “This phenomenon is [a result of] China’s recolonization [of Hong Kong],” he says. “The Hong Kong government acknowledges this phenomenon, but has done nothing to oppose the invasion, the Chinese invasion. They would rather use police force to solve the problem. No, I should say, they use the police to suppress the people who mention the problem.”
Mr Edward Leung and his group are also here to fill what they see as a gap left by the “old resistance”. “We want to break away from the existing opposition and put direct pressure on the government with the right means of protest,” he explained. “Since the old resistance methods have failed against the authorities, we have no choice but to stand out and break the old rules.”
On more than one occasion, Mr Edward Leung reiterated that what they represent is not racism. “We need the international attention, there have been too many false perceptions of HK localism,” said Leung. “Hong Kong people are actually descendants of immigrants. In fact, we welcome all immigrants from everywhere as long as they respect and acknowledge the core values of Hong Kong.”
Mr Baggio Leung is the convenor of Youngspiration, a new political group formed by more than 100 young people after the Umbrella Movement. The group is planning to compete in the upcoming district council elections, fielding eight candidates.
During his speech, Mr Leung articulated an interpretation of localism as a desire to reclaim the administrative body and achieve self-governance through the lens of his fellow citizens. “It is very obvious that the Councils and government in Hong Kong are not really looking at the issues in the society from the perspective of Hongkongers.”
But what constitutes a true “Hongkonger”? Leung answered the question through a Maslow-like diagram that showed concerns and values that define Hongkongers and how they should think about their identity and act on it.
While the bottom four layers are self-evident (for example, defend Hong Kong), the the ultimate goal – the fifth layer – is to “re-narrate Hong Kong as a national subject in its own right”. In other words, create a sense of identity that puts Hong Kong at the apex of concerns, not as a city subservient to a larger nation.
“We hope to break this current situation.” – Baggio Leung, Convenor of Youngspiration
In order to achieve the goal, it is the responsibility of the government to make the administration as responsive as possible to Hongkongers who care about the wellbeing of local permanent residents. “We believe that the only way to ensure continuous development of Hong Kong is to develop a complete self-governance model,” he explained. “This will in turn help to reinforce the role and positioning of Hong Kong people and define Hong Kong’s Subjectivity.”
Youngspiration is the only group among the three that seeks to become the establishment through the ballot box. Mr Leung’s group’s distinguishing feature was Youngspiration’s “will to govern”, “We hope to break this current situation by going into the Councils we’d like to become the “third party” [not pan-dem or pro-est] power in our Councils to help push forward the localism policies.”
Dr Cheng Chung Tai, a leader in the controversial political group Civic Passion, shared his insightful observation that Localism, for him, is mere “marketing” and “political propaganda” in service to a greater cause.
Dr Cheng kicked off explaining his hesitation to accept HT’s invitation, fearing the event might be a set up by the Chinese Communist Party, to much mirth. He quickly got serious, explaining the recent sharp rise in a sense of local connectedness in Hong Kong. According to Dr Cheng, two forces have led to this phenomenon. External threats exist that could take away rights and resources that have been taken for granted in Hong Kong. The second threat is that of Hong Kong being “recolonised” by China and the people of Hong Kong people becoming second- or third-class residents in their own homes.
“It is because we stand in front of a powerful external force, the CCP,” he explained. “For some people, they might think the capital that comes from mainland might just be another form of globalisation, but from Hong Kong’s perspective, it’s just raw colonization.”
Dr Cheng explains that, in his view, Localism is not merely pride in one’s region, or appreciation for its language or culinary specialities. Instead, according to Dr Cheng, it is simply political autonomy.
“Localism to us, is a form of marketing, we have to admit that.” – Dr Cheng Chung-tai, prominent member of Civic Passion
Speaking to an audience of media, foreign diplomats, business people, fellow localists and expats, Dr Cheng said, “Localism to some of you from other countries is just common sense. People should be born to have our own rights and political freedom to choose what we want and how we plan for it. But in Hong Kong, we live in a distorted political system, the so called “One Country, Two Systems” agreement. Under this system, it claims we have a high degree of autonomy, but the degree can be determined by the CCP, meaning it’s not really autonomy.”
To Dr Cheng, and Civic Passion, Localism is just a means to an end, “Localism to us, is a form of marketing, we have to admit that.” He also calls it “a new way for political propaganda”.
Dr Cheng explains that the old guard, namely the pan-democrats, used an middle-class, elitist language in the 90’s that stopped them from developing and cultivating their ideas in the communities. “In the past, the way of promoting the ideas of democracy, freedom, equality, and solidarity, were not effective enough. So we need make use of a new way for political propaganda.” And that way is Localism.
The ensuing Q&A also elicited interesting ideas and a good overview of the three guests’ perspectives.
When asked their whether they were “separatists”, all three guests suggested that a Hong Kong independent from China was not necessarily what they are asking for.
“Individually, I don’t really care whether Hong Kong is part of China or independent outside China,” said Mr Edward Leung, who also though Hong Kong wasn’t ready for it anyway. “Whatever form of Hong Kong sovereignty is not the question. The key result is real autonomy for Hong Kong; whether we can have the right to choose our future.”
“Individually, I don’t really care whether Hong Kong is part of China or independent outside China.” – Edward Leung
Dr Cheng suggested that the promotion of Hong Kong’s independence is an effort to “broaden the political continuum” that will ultimately pose a threat to Beijing. The goal is for the Central Government to view a republican “One Country, Two systems” arrangement, as scholar Wan Chin suggests in his City-State theory, as a neutral middle ground for both parties.
Mr Baggio Leung agrees Hong Kong people should have a right to decide its future before the Basic Law expires in 2047. Instead of looking forward, Mr Leung believes a relationship with China closer to the early post-Handover days, would be most ideal.
“There wasn’t any sort of localism at the time, because Hongkongers felt comfortable with the separation guaranteed by ‘One Country Two Systems’,” he says.
Of the three groups represented, Youngspiration was the only one seeking to bring Localism into the current establishment. The audience was especially interested in the group’s strategy as they face much more experienced political opponents with deeper pockets, more experience and established networks. According to Mr Baggio Leung, they plan to bank on their image as “nobodies” that came out of the baptism by fire that was the Umbrella Movement. “This image actually helps us reach more grassroots people,” he says.
Their strategy is to highlight controversial issues at the society level to invoke the sense of ‘localness’. For example, Leung would ask local residents what would they feel like if the Huanggang Port Control Point, with parallel traders and mainlanders over everywhere, is located within their communities. “The government is actually pushing such policies in Kennedy Town,” explains Baggio. “But more than 80% of respondents are against it as they fear the area surrounding their building might become hotels, or pharmacies, or jewellery stores.”
“Pan-democratic parties don’t strive for a localist policy agenda. But we can say we’re against too many jewellery stores or pharmacies near your homes, and [the residents] want such people to talk about these ideas.”
“I don’t think Localism is on the opposite of the business sector.” – Baggio Leung
Leung and his compatriots hope to become the “third party” power to take forward the localist policy agenda. They are also planning to show the people of Hong Kong their capability to do so by forming a shadow cabinet to put forth much better policy proposals.
When asked how Youngspiration could appeal to the significant business communities in the districts, Mr Baggio Leung answered, “I don’t think Localism is on the opposite of the business sector. Hong Kong’s business sector has succeeded in the past because of low tax rates, our trading ports, and more importantly, our system and values such as rule of law. To protect such values, we actually need to Localist policies like separation between China and HK, as in, keeping them from intruding in our systems such as rule of law.”
The next conversation, and appealing to the majority
Mr Edward Leung suggested the reason Localism has still been seen as radical in society, is a lack of respectable leaders representing respective schools of thought, and a lack of a strong local identity.
“Right now, Hongkongers are not ready for it,” he said. “Not all Hong Kong people know we are special, and we have our own culture, our own systems. We are an internationally famous city, and we could attract a lot of foreign investment.”
The battle is also generational, according to Edward. “The older generation, who were largely influenced by their Chinese history education, probably still have a sense of loving China. But for the younger generation, when I ask them, will you sacrifice for China or for Hong Kong, most choose Hong Kong. Why? Because their identities are Hong Kongers. So maybe we can arouse these identities and one day we can see we are really a civic nation.”
So what next? Mr Edward Leung and Hong Kong indigenous are looking to the future.
“This kind of social movement, requires time. Maybe my generation won’t achieve it, but ideologies and ideas are bulletproof, and can be passed on to the next generation.”