Student leaders behind Hong Kong‘s 2014 pro-democracy protests launched a new political party Sunday and said it would campaign for a referendum to decide the city’s future — including possible independence.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city is self-governing and retains many freedoms not seen on the mainland. But Beijing sees the concept of eventual independence as unthinkable.
Joshua Wong, 19, who announced the launch of the Demosistō party, was at the forefront of the mass rallies which brought parts of the city to a standstill as residents called for fully free elections for future leaders.
But the 79-day protest fizzled out without winning any concessions from the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.
“It is time to fight for our self-determination,” Wong told a press conference at which the party — whose key policy is to push for a referendum — was launched.
“Independence should be one of the options inside the self-determination referendum,” he said, adding he hopes it could happen in 10 years’ time.
Nathan Law, another student leader of the so-called Occupy movement, said the party would collect views from the city’s general public rather than engaging with Beijing.
“The truth is… we don’t see any outcome when we communicate with the central government (Beijing), so for now we will not have any communication with the government,” he said.
Hong Kong was returned by Britain to China in 1997 under a “one country two systems” deal that guarantees its freedoms.
But there are fears that those freedoms are being eroded, with Beijing tightening its grip behind the scenes.
More radical young activists are gaining a foothold in mainstream politics, with one student leader who calls for independence from China taking tens of thousands of votes in a recent poll.
The new party, which currently has about 30 members, will send teams to contest the city’s legislative elections in September.
Wong cannot himself stand for election until he is 21.
Both Wong and Law face criminal charges over the 2014 mass rallies.
Wong said he expects a continuation of what he called the suppression of democratic activists.
“To us we feel being suppressed is something to expect…(but) Hong Kongpeople should decide the future of Hong Kong rather than allowing the Communist Party to determine our future,” he said.
The referendum would include the option of Hong Kong staying part of China, he said.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in a visit to Hong Kong last week dismissed aspirations to independence as not a “realistic plan”.