Opinion Politics & Protest

Could calls for Hong Kong independence be acts of ‘treason’ against Xi Jinping?

Apologies for the long break in appearances, which was due to a technical problem. The right side of my keyboard developed a mysterious ailment, which meant that when I pressed one button I got two letters l;uijke thuis. My IT consultant (my son, who really does work in IT) diagnosed a case of digital dinosaurism. My keyboard was disintegrating because I hit it too hard.

No doubt this is a result of learning to type on a typewriter – which, my children, involved pressing a key which was connected to a series of levers which eventually stamped a letter on a sheet of paper through an artfully arranged strip of inky ribbon.

CY Leung puppet at the July 1st march

CY Leung puppet at the July 1st march

One of my regular editors suggested that I was pressing too hard for a proper modern keyboard because of suppressed hatred of someone, possibly CY Leung. I am sure this is not the case. I do not hate Mr Leung. I just wish he had more respect for the truth.

Let us take his latest outburst, which started with the claim that calls for independence from a few would damage the whole of Hong Kong. This is, it seems to me, highly questionable. In places where freedom of speech is offered, many nutty things will be said. There is no reason why visitors or potential investors should be put off by this, any more than they have been by the continuing effort to inform Hong Kong people, and visitors, about the sufferings of mainland Falun Gong believers.

But Mr Leung now offered an interesting manoeuvre, which when practiced in Tsim Sha Tsui camera shops is known as “bait and switch”. No central government, he said, would support a city which called for independence. Well that also seems a bit dubious. It is a recurring habit of pro-China commentators to make sweeping generalisations about the rest of the world which are wrong. We have, for example, been told at various times that nobody allows non-nationals to vote, that no country would put up with having an occupation in its business district, that no country allows its citizens to talk about independence. All wrong.

But even if you subscribe to Mr Leung’s theory about the way a central government would react to calls for independence, note the not-too-subtle change which has been worked here. We have gone from a few people calling for independence to “a city that calls for independence”. But this is an impossibility. No mechanism exists through which Hong Kong can call for independence, or indeed anything else. We are saddled with a political system which cannot even call for universal pensions, popular though these would certainly be.

hong kong china independence protest

File photo: HKFP.

Indeed it will be interesting to see how candidates present themselves in the upcoming Legco elections, because it has become increasingly clear that there is a wide range of measures which the city does “call for” but which our political system is not prepared to deliver. There is nothing mysterious about this. Most of us would happily sign up for a decent pension, standard working hours, a generous minimum wage, reform of the MPF, a health service more or less free at the point of delivery and generous arrangements for education up to the age of about 21. Yet all of these things have been shunted over the last five years into the “too hard” basket, leaving the government struggling to square a circle by making homes cheaper without depressing property prices.

Now that people have worked out who is making the real decisions about such matters, and that these decisions are not being made by the Hong Kong government, calls for independence are understandable, if perhaps not very realistic. Our leaders are helpless puppets who do not care what we think. Independence would cut the strings. For that reason, of course, it will not be allowed.

Still, calls for independence have had one useful effect. People who have been complaining for 19 years that Hong Kong needed to legislate against sedition have now discovered the Crimes Ordinance, and in particular the sections of it which deal with sedition. I do not personally believe that they could be used against peaceful advocates of independence but at least the Liaison Office groupies now know that they are there.

The former Hong Kong flag seen at a protest.

The former Hong Kong flag seen at a protest.

I must, though, sadly pour water on the suggestion that the section dealing with treason, suitably interpreted, could be used to suppress independence talk. This belief rests on the shaky foundation that the wording in the ordinance, which refers to “the Queen” could be reinterpreted in the light of post-handover blanket changes in terminology to apply to the Central government. There is a problem here in the rest of the ordinance. Treason consists of various acts which do not concern us here (taking up arms … aiding enemies) and more relevantly “denying the title”. This is a technical term which cannot be extended to cover any suggestion that some part of Her Majesty’s realm, or Mr Xi’s, would be happier if allowed to go its own way.

treason

The relevant section on Treason in the Crimes Ordinance.

Denying the title refers to a quite specific verbal act, which is suggesting that the Queen or her ancestors at some point usurped the legitimate succession which, in the more obsequious history books, connects her with William the Conqueror. It would cover those nostalgics who seek to revive the claims of the House of Stuart (deposed in legally murky circumstances in 1688) and those gluttons for lost causes who look back with regret to the demise of the House of York (last serious claimant killed in battle in 1485). Over the years there have been occasions when the orderly succession was – shall we say nudged? – by prejudices against juveniles, women or Catholics.

However no such ambiguity attends the enthronement of Mr Leung, who emerged from a legally ordained process intended to produce a result satisfactory to our external rulers. The suggestion that his successors would fare better if chosen without outside interference is not seditious. It’s common sense.

Could calls for Hong Kong independence be acts of 'treason' against Xi Jinping?