Titled “The Way Ahead: Hong Kongers’ Identity, ‘Autonomy’ & ‘Independence”, this year’s Annual Christmas Discussion Forum focused on the link between a growing ‘national’ identity and recent political movements and growing tensions across the political spectrum. Hosted by the London 4U PASS, we were fortunate enough to welcome the Hon. Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, Dr. Brian Fong Chi-hang, and Mr. Joshua Wong to join us for the afternoon.
The Forum started from a relatively milder topic: identity. With that topic, I began to realise that the most common four options of identity available to someone living in Hong Kong – 香港人, 香港的中國人, 中國的香港人, 中國人 – are not mutually exclusive. Although the recognition of being a Hong Konger has risen significantly in recent years, we should still be open to other options and refrain from boxing ourselves into a ‘sole’ correct answer when it comes to identity. While most people at the event picked “Hong Konger”, some people realizing this non-exclusivity also picked other options, such as “Hong Kong Chinese” and “Chinese Hong Konger”. I believe that recognition of the possibility of a multilayered identity will help us explain to others and ourselves who or what we are.
Another point that I would like to highlight on the topic of identity would be the ambiguity surrounding what “Chinese” means to us. “Chinese” may refer to 中國人, including acceptance of the current political regime on the mainland as part of our identity, but it can also mean 中華民族, 華夏子孫, 漢人, which embraces our common bloodline and culture but does not necessarily include such an implicit acceptance of the PRC. Another division in the understanding of “Chinese” identity is on legal grounds. We may recognize ourselves as Chinese by ethnicity, but disagree that we are citizens of the PRC so long as it is ruled only by the Chinese Communist Party. However, in the case of Hong Kong, our SAR passport’s nationality column only allows Chinese to be our nationality, despite our ideals of taking “Hong Konger” as our nationality. Nevertheless, I will still use the social term Hong Konger to introduce myself, followed with the legal identity of “Chinese” as our passport states us to be.
The next topic the Forum came to was considerably more controversial: self-determination. Some argue that a high degree of autonomy implies that we have the right of self-determination; on the other hand, the CCP believes that ‘self-determination’ is just a disguise for ‘independence’, a taboo topic. Reflecting on the arguments from each of the guests on the prospect and desirability self-determination, I think it represents an ideal state for the pan-democrats of Hong Kong’s future, but the poor use of the term ‘self-determination’, specifically its connotations of decolonization and independence, caused the CCP to interpret it as a highly hostile movement. I believe self-determination is inevitable, but how much we self-determine is the real question: whether we should become just another autonomous region in the PRC like Guangxi, or gaining even more control over the administration of Hong Kong such as determining the quota for one-way permits? I agree with Dr. Fong: the process of liberalization will be long, and we have to be especially patient as we are facing the largest authoritarian regime in the world. Self-determination, not in the sense of decolonization and independence, but in the sense of deciding the direction of Hong Kong more broadly, is an option under the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy in the Basic Law. I believe there is room for negotiation to place for more ‘self-determination’ in our political system reform.
Lastly, I found that even though the guests invited are across the political spectrum, there was more common ground than I had expected. It is obvious that everyone wants a more democratic political system for Hong Kong. While there are vastly different ways of advocating and promoting democracy, from radical ideas such as independence and conservative ways such as maintaining the status quo, I hope that more common ground can be discovered and a trustworthy middleman can represent both sides in negotiations with the mainland. Although it may be a hopeless venture to bridge the gap between us and the mainland, or a futile effort to push against the world’s ‘largest authoritarian regime’, I believe a well-played negotiation can benefit both sides in the future.