Is there the slightest chance of having a grown-up discussion about the talk given to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club by Hong Kong National Party Convenor Andy Chan? Probably not – but let’s give it a go.

In so doing we can briskly skip around the more outrageous nonsense this otherwise routine event has produced. Zhang Xiaoming, who is in charge of Hong Kong affairs in Beijing, has declared that the FCC acted illegally by allowing the talk to take place,

He could not say which law had been broken but this has not deterred Hong Kong’s highly vocal Beijing echo chamber from clucking around and throwing about the word “illegal.” Yet even Ronny Tong, the born-again freelance government apologist, ExCo member and lawyer, has admitted that there is currently no law to prevent Mr Chan expressing his views.

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Andy Chan. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

Secondly, there is the ludicrous demand that the FCC should adopt a firm position opposing Hong Kong independence. This flies against the club’s entire ethos, which is not to take political positions but to provide a platform for all points of view without bias.

There is more nonsense to be cleared away here but grown-ups might like to move quickly on to the heart of the matter which is what Mr Chan did and did not say at the FCC and whether it matters.

Mr Chan is understandably cagey in revealing how much support his party actually has but he makes unsubstantiated claims about the level of support there is for Hong Kong independence among the general public.

During his talk he carelessly fused the concepts of independence and the demands for greater autonomy in a way that can only delight his opponents, who are similarly keen to confuse the two issues.

When invited to explain why he identifies as a democrat but is under criticism from the democratic camp for making their job more difficult he was somewhat dismissive about the traditional pan-democrats and insisted that they had achieved nothing. This, again, is precisely the line taken by the government and its supporters, albeit from a different starting point.

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Andy Chan. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

So does this mean that he is effectively playing into the hands of the government camp? I asked him that and did not receive anything resembling a coherent answer.

However, he pointed out how action taken against his party provided a curtain raiser for targeting democrats who were somehow lumped together in the same camp as the HKNP.

Thus Chan was the first person barred from standing for election on political grounds and a flurry of other bans followed.

Now the government will almost certainly move to outlaw this party and once that has been done it seems more than likely that this will clear the way for other organizations to be banned. Maybe the existence of the HKNP does no more than speed up this process but this is of little comfort.

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Photo: Facebook/Hong Kong National Party.

The HKNP has become a lightning rod for the coming clamp down and, listening to Mr Chan, he seems oblivious of the consequences.

Yet he did strike a resonant chord in discussing Hongkongers’ fears over the loss of identity as Beijing’s relentless machine ploughs on trying to destroy the local Cantonese language, undermining autonomous institutions and, of course, spends large sums of money to create structures that physically tie together the mainland and the supposedly autonomous Special Administrative Region.

Chan’s take on this is that only independence can stem this process.

Among the worrying aspects of his mono-focus on independence is an uncomfortable attitude towards Mainlanders. He repeats the tainted cry of petty nationalists the world over by speaking about how they are taking ‘our’ jobs, occupying ‘our’ hospitals and filling ‘our’ streets.

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These dog-whistle appeals to people’s baser instincts are unsavoury, yet there is a genuine discussion to be had over immigration policies that are currently controlled from Beijing and yes, there is indeed friction between Hongkongers and mainlanders… but there are better ways of addressing it.

Mind you when it comes to unsavoury, former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is clearly in pole position to win any contest for the most unsavoury politician in town.

In his frenzy of Facebook posts about the FCC talk he actually managed to reach a new low by comparing the club’s advocacy of freedom of speech to tolerance of Nazi holocaust deniers – this man clearly has not a scintilla of shame in using such a vile comparison to make his point.

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Leung Chun-ying. File photo:

As it happens Mr Leung is likely to be invited to the FCC to explain his position but the chances of the invitation being accepted are slight because it involves being forced to face an open forum – he prefers to bully and pout rather than try and defend his position.

Mr Chan, who risks the loss of his liberty among other things, is a curious combination of brave, naïve and foolish but at least he is prepared to explain himself and, at least for now there is a space in Hong Kong where he is free to do so. How long will that last?

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship