Andy Chan and his Hong Kong National Party, pushing for a total severance of ties with mainland China, would have sunk into oblivion had it not been for another crackdown by the city’s government.
With the democratic movement in the former British colony now at its nadir, it took a note from the Hong Kong Security Bureau in mid-July to remind Hongkongers that Chan was still around. The government said it was considering outlawing his nationalist party altogether under the Societies Ordinance, which empowers the secretary for security to act “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Chan is already banned from standing in Legislative Council elections under a disqualification ruling by a returning officer back in 2016. He was initially given 21 days to make a written submission on the latest move, and this was extended to 49 days at the end of last month.
The fact that the government is dredging up the pro-independence stances of Chan and other young dissidents – viewed by many as nonsensical wishful thinking and a sign of political naivety – has also ensured that the seemingly dormant debate on Hong Kong’s political future is also back in the headlines, more than two decades into Beijing’s rule.
Local officials might have been trying to score brownie points in front of Chinese cadres by clamping down on Chan, 26, and insisting he was a thorn in Beijing’s side, but they have given him a voice. Chan will present a luncheon speech at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club on August 14 themed “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule.”
An organizer said Chan was expected to share his experiences of being at the helm of a movement that is trying to construct a national identity for Hong Kong, and to give his reaction to the government’s strong pushback against his party. He may also give his views on the possible future for Hong Kong as an independent nation.
It did not take long for bigwigs in the city’s pro-Beijing camp to react. Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, now a deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, sent the first salvo in an open letter to the FCC’s first vice-president, Victor Mallett, that accused the club of “not drawing any line against criminals and terrorists” by inviting Chan, and possibly those who promote independence for Taiwan as well.
“This matter of inviting Chan to speak at the club has nothing to do with press freedom. Press freedom is a core value that Hong Kong treasures so much, so that the government of Hong Kong leased to the club at a token rent the building on Ice House Street in Central.
“Not many organizations in Hong Kong have received from the government this kind of support…. Ironically, I presume these premises will be exactly where Chan has been invited to present his case for Hong Kong independence,” Leung said.
On Sunday Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also expressed her “regret” over the issue and said that advocating independence went beyond the realm of freedom of speech. She also noted that the government had charged the FCC “market rent” for leasing the venue.
Beijing’s ire is apparent when it remarks that “an outright traitor” has been invited to spread demagogic views in public. The Commissioner’s Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong has prodded the FCC to cancel the talk, but the club stood firm in a statement issued on Monday.
“We invite a very broad range of speakers and panelists to address our members and to answer questions from them…. Hosting such events does not mean that we either endorse or oppose the views of our speakers … and we will continue to welcome speakers with widely differing points of view in the future,” the club said, stressing that it felt its members and the public at large had the right – and in the case of journalists, the professional responsibility – to hear the views of different sides in any debate.
“We believe that in free societies such as Hong Kong it is vitally important to allow people to speak and debate freely, even if one does not agree with their particular views,” said the statement.
The club has attracted solid support from abroad for sticking to its principles, with former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten – Britain’s last colonial representative in the city – among those speaking up.
“I have consistently argued against the idea of advocating independence for Hong Kong,” Patten told Agence France-Presse. “But I also continue to argue for Hong Kong’s liberties and local autonomy.
“It is quite simply wrong for Beijing’s Communist Foreign Ministry to get involved with an issue which should be determined within Hong Kong. There is no justification for censoring people because you don’t like what they have to say,” he added.
It is believed the debate has driven a wedge between Beijing and the foreign journalists stationed in Hong Kong. The FCC has no room to back down on the issue, as the club has branded itself as the last bastion of press freedom in Hong Kong.
Whether you love Chan’s views or hate them, one thing is for sure: expect a full house if Chan does manage to show up for his much-hyped talk.