Every nation sees upholding its sovereignty and safeguarding its territorial integrity as a fundamental right. No nation in the world will tolerate anybody’s attempt, no matter how feeble it may be, to violate its sovereignty. Nor will any country compromise its stance over anybody’s covert or overt attempts to undermine its territorial integrity. In China, an intact sovereign state is a prerequisite for rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and realization of the Chinese Dream. This is considered the ultimate red line that no one may cross without dire consequences. Despite this, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong, crossed the line when, while in Taiwan, he shared his vision of an independent Hong Kong to instigate secession of the city from the sovereign state China.
He theorized at a forum in Taiwan that should China become a Western-style democracy in future, various autonomous ethnic regions could exercise their right to self-determination to become independent to form a confederation; under this circumstance, Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent country. This controversial hypothesis immediately drew vehement condemnation from the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, local community leaders and legislative councilors. Given his leadership role in the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 and the economic destruction and social division this caused, Tai should have anticipated the latest firestorm he just ignited.
What made this uncalled-for political provocation particularly unforgivable was that he was hypothesizing a divisive scenario at the worst possible time and location — a forum organized by a pro-independence Taiwanese group when the island is under the rule of Chinese mainland-bashing Democratic Progressive Party, and United States President Donald Trump had just signed the Taiwan Travel Act, believed to be a veiled attempt by the US to alter the “One China” policy.
Spain shows us how to use legal means to deal with secessionists in Catalonia. To eliminate secession, sedition and subversion we must fight in court
Foolishness or not, Tai has made a grave mistake in trying to raise the prospect of Hong Kong’s eventual independence while in Taiwan, not forgetting that Beijing has time and again warned the island against any move toward independence. The future of Hong Kong is inseparable from her motherland, a fact enshrined in both Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the nation’s Constitution. Naivety or not, he should know better than fantasizing a political scenario which can never be realized. Nor can he credulously hypothesize that China will introduce Western-style democracy and federal regimes. Quite the contrary, China has repeatedly declared its determination to govern the country under the principle of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It did so again at the recent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It’s hard to fathom how a legal scholar could not understand this inviolate fact, and one is equally hard-put to find his real motive.
Tai habitually uses “freedom of speech” and his scholar status as a shield to evade legal responsibility, even though he openly instigated others to commit illegal acts and has advocated unconstitutional messages since “Occupy Central”. He acts more like a shrewd political provocateur than learned scholar. His actions belie any pretense he might have had as an innocent scholar. He is in fact engaged in political activism through questionable means. He launched the so-called Project Storm and ThunderGo plans to manipulate elections in Hong Kong. Now he has even planted subversive notions across the Taiwan Straits. He continued to promote his poisonous views through online and print media after returning to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, opposition parties were quick to throw their support behind him, making us wonder whether all this was planned and staged for something more sinister at a later date.
Spain shows us how to use legal means to deal with secessionists in Catalonia. To eliminate secession, sedition and subversion we must fight in court. But we must first enact legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law to give the SAR government the legal basis to prosecute those who commit treason, secession, sedition and subversion because currently it is difficult to bring the culpable to justice under the existing Crimes Ordinance. Secondly, we must prevent our university campuses from turning into bases for subversion. No one will disagree that universities should respect and uphold freedom of expression and academic research to let our scholars and students continue their pursuit of knowledge. But these pedagogical pursuits must not transgress the law. Thirdly, we must urge our central government to pass a national unification law as soon as practicable so Hong Kong can start its legislative process for the law to apply locally to deal with anyone attempting to promote separatist ideas.
The author is the president of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals and a past convener of Overseas Working Group of Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee of the HKSAR Government.