The latest alleged threat to the integrity of both Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China comes from a tiny group of young activists who founded a party called the Hong Kong National Party, demanding status as an independent republic, Singapore-style. The party sprang out of the 2014 Occupy protests with a demand for a “self-reliant nation.”
The party has never been registered and has a tiny, if unknown, number of members. But any group of more than one person can be deemed “a society” under Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance and thus potentially subject to a ban. Although the localists and their movements in Hong Kong have lost momentum since their 2014 high point, which brought of thousands of people to the streets to protest the abrogation of the territory’s Basic Law by Beijing in denying universal suffrage, only now is the Societies law now being invoked and the party being told to explain why it should not be banned.
The government lamely argues that there are in all countries provisions to ban activities which are deemed to threaten public health, safety or security. But clearly this move against a tiny group is intended to threaten free discussion of any issues which involve what Beijing claims to be the territorial integrity of the state.
The party’s co-founder, 27-year-old Andy Chan Ho-tin, had already been barred from running for a seat in the Legislative Council in 2016. Since that time, little had been heard of the party as localist forces fragmented and the movement lost appeal to the broader electorate. So a ban now is clearly not because the party offers any threat but as a warning to others not to query China’s territorial claims in any way.
This is aimed as much at discussion of separatist reality of Taiwan, or the unrest in Han-minority and once independent Tibet and Xinjiang. It could likewise be used against anyone querying China’s historically ridiculous claims over what is ( in English) called the South China Sea.
Ultimately too it also implies that any suggestion that China should not have one party rule is also a threat to the state and illegal in Hong Kong. The leadership and supremacy of the Communist Party is as much built into the PRCs constitution as the current territorial claims.
Hong Kong’s army of sycophants in the Legislative Council, legal and business bodies argue that the move against the HK National Party has no broader significance and is justified by its extremist (and impractical) views. It is too small to be relevant.
From a practical viewpoint the party should be seen as too small and so far on the fringe, for the authorities to bother about. So it indicates Beijing’s desire to suppress dissent, starting with the smallest of groups.
It also shows what Hong Kong can do using its existing laws rather than having to wait for the passage of a controversial national security law which is supposed to be enacted under basic Law Article 23.
This affair can be expected to set an ominous precedent, to cast a wide net over activities deemed to fall into the categories of sedition or subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets and outlawing political organisations and other bodies from establishing links with foreign organizations.
Academics and journalists as well as pro-democracy politicians will need to be increasingly on guard. The government has already used legal technicalities to bar elected legislators and judges, has been handing down draconian sentences on demonstrators and so-called rioters which cast doubt on their independence from government.
Meanwhile however, the government has shied away from cracking down on the Falun Gong movement, perhaps being more afraid of the dedication of its thousands of Hong Kong followers, and the bright blue-clad marching band its parades at anti-government events than it is of conventional, middle class politicians.