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Analyst: Beijing’s Responses to Hong Kong Independence Movements Expected


Student leader Nathan Law (C) celebrates on the podium after his win in the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong, China, Sept. 5, 2016.

The Chinese Communist Party’s state-run People’s Daily took aim at Hong Kong pro-democracy and independence advocates, saying that what the movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan have in common is a plan on destroying the country.

But is there enough of an independence movement in Hong Kong to challenge Beijing, or is merely the idea that one exists prompting Beijing’s response?

Scott Harold, the associate director at the Center for Asia Pacific Policy at the RAND Corporation, says that while there is a small number in Hong Kong who have talked about independence, “Beijing has sought in this area to try to undermine, undercut and [delegitimize] Hong Kong's umbrella movement and its Occupy Central with Peace and Love movement by trying to tether them to the notion that these are a bunch of radical separatists who want some pie in the sky independent Hong Kong that can never happen.”

Harold says the idea of an independent Hong Kong is a relatively new notion and not widely accepted, but that has grown over the past few years and now people are talking about it, which may be signalling a type of identity change.

“This is something that's happening and for that reason it's extremely alarming to Beijing. The problem is Beijing has a real difficulty after seeing that its own actions have consequences,” says Harold.

Or perhaps China does realize this, says Harold, but thinks there’s no other option but to respond that way and must adopt the toughest line possible.

Is the tactic working?

“I think there's a few different ways to cut at this,” Harold surmises. “One is to look at kind of the short term or tactical status, and then another is to look at kind of a longer term what we might call the secular trend.”

The secular trend focuses on deepening the sense of Hong Kong identity and some who remember life before the 1997 handover believe their way of life may be under attack with the arrival of those from mainland China.

“What in the more specific tactical data say you know who's winning that battle I think undeniably it’s unfortunately the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) approach has cowed a number of people who might have been wavering in two years” because Beijing can marshal the superior resources to achieve that outcome by waiting the opposition out, says Harold.

The future

In 2047, the Basic Law that’s been governing Hong Kong goes away. Can current events provide a glimpse of what Hong Kong may see in a generation?

Harold isn’t sure that political scientists are better at predicting the future than other scientists, but 30 years is a long time and he doesn’t see China changing the way it addresses Hong Kong. However, he notes the Hong Kong and China of today may not necessarily be the same ones seen in 2047.

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    Steve Miller

    Steve Miller comes to VOA after nearly a decade in South Korea, where he worked as a university professor and was a mainstay on local, national, and international radio and television programs. While in Asia, Steve produced one of the highest rated Asia related news podcasts, which was syndicated in four countries and now has a new home at Voice of America. In addition, he traveled extensively throughout the region sharing his adventures online with his audience.

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