It is often said that Hong Kong independence is a lost cause, but for Baggio Leung – a disqualified lawmaker and now the new spokesperson of a pro-Hong Kong independence group – the case for a full separation from China grows only stronger each day.
The latest evidence, he said in an interview with HKFP, was the denial of a visa renewal to Financial Times’ Asia News Editor Victor Mallet. Mallet, the vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong was, in essence, expelled from Hong Kong.
Many people fear that was direct retribution against him for chairing a talk by a pro-independence activist.
“The FCC incident is the extension of Beijing’s behaviour in Hong Kong over the past few years. It is very outrageous. It is like the Boxer Rebellion in Chinese history books – beat up the foreign devils, kick them out of China – this is exactly the kind of behaviour, just sweep all the disobedient foreign devils out of the door,” he said.
“We are going backwards 100 years, back to that era,” he added. “The incident shows exactly what the outcome will be for a place when it is under Beijing’s rule.”
Leung said the de facto expulsion of a veteran journalist served as a wake-up call for Hong Kong people, as the mainland’s style of governance is now being implemented in Hong Kong.
“It’s time to think about this question: can we have democracy and freedom without sovereignty? Without the checks and balances under a democratic system, how can we achieve an ideal society in our minds?” he said. “Beijing will never distribute power [to Hong Kong], it will not let you enjoy a real democratic system.”
“Without sovereignty, everything is just empty talk – including a democratic system.”
It could not have been a worse time for Leung to become the new leader of the pro-independence group Hong Kong National Front – formed in 2015 – which Leung said was a small group of “passionate” young people. According to Leung, around 20 members show up to protests occasionally.
The announcement of his new role was made at 8:23 am on September 24, two months after the government proposed banning the Hong Kong National Party, and just an hour before the party was officially outlawed over national security concerns. Leung’s National Front also aims for separation of Hong Kong from China, but – for now – it can still operate legally.
Asked why he still chose to take the leadership role, Leung said he had been in discussion with the group since the proposed ban in mid-July. He said the group’s former convener had to leave the role owing to family issues as the family had businesses in mainland China.
“Our consensus is that localists or pro-independence advocates will have to go underground – there is no benefit pushing [a little-known member] to face the public – the solution is to find a publicly well-known person as the spokesperson,” he said. “It’s better than making [others] public, which will destroy their private lives.”
One of the downsides of becoming a public figure, Leung said, was that he was constantly being followed when he attended public events.
“After a march, there was a uniformed police officer who was recording me until I entered [the MTR’s] paid area,” he said. “Some people who dress like secret agents in a comedy film – who apparently are not Hongkongers – also followed me. I am prepared for these… Can they have a bigger budget and find someone who looks more normal? It’s so funny.”
“I believe they do not exactly want to follow me. They want me to know that I am being followed.”
Asked if he believed his group will be banned by the government, Leung said: “I don’t know if the Hong Kong National Front will be banned. I only know that its members have been monitored by the Security Bureau and the police.”
After the banning of the Hong Kong National Party, it is an offence to attend meetings of, or give any aid to the banned party. The maximum punishment could be two years in jail, but the terms “meeting” and “aid” are not clearly defined in the Societies Ordinance, which Leung criticised as too vague and unconstitutional.
Leung said if the Hong Kong National Party called for a rally, he would participate: “This is the most basic thing we can do to show our support and show that the government’s action is unreasonable.”
Asked if he was afraid of going to jail for doing so, Leung said: “I don’t know what will be the outcome. If I speculate about the worst outcome and plan what I should do from a risk management point of view – then I can’t do anything. Because under the extreme rule of Beijing, the possible cost [of protest] is infinitely high.”
The liberal faction of the legal sector should help the Hong Kong National Party lodge a legal challenge, Leung said, since – under the Ordinance’s broad definition – any two people could be considered a society and suffer legal consequences after being banned.
“If the government can do this, and our legal system allows the government to do this, everyone in Hong Kong is at risk. There is no need for Article 23 [the national security law], the government can use [the Societies Ordinance] to do anything.”
Whilst Beijing and the local authorities have deemed advocating independence for Hong Kong a “red line,” Leung said that there were two tipping points that led him to believe that the city must split from China. Namely, the kidnapping of Hong Kong booksellers in 2015, and the barring of candidates from running in the 2016 legislative elections.
“These are written in ink in the Basic Law – publication and election freedom must be protected,” he said. “There were many incidents in the past that the Basic Law was seemingly violated – but none of those were as obvious as these.”
“A contract needs to be protected by both sides. If one side clearly does not want to stick to its promises, and it uses power to suppress you, then it is simply useless.”
Leung described Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong as colonisation.
“The most common method of colonisation is to create a privileged class, who have special economic or political rights. Every single problem is related to the privileged class, and the class is more powerful than you, so none of the problems will be fixed.”
“Land developers and friends have more than 200 votes [out of 1,200] in the chief executive election – not a single chief executive will challenge the land developers. Why? They have the votes, and you don’t.”
Awakening the public
Leung, who in 2016 was a lawmaker for the Youngspiration party, took his oath of office as a legislsator in a way some considered derogatory to China. His protest spurred Beijing to take action, leading to his disqualification.
In a previous interview with HKFP, Terry Yeung, who was a former assistant of Youngspiration at the legislature, said it was a mistake to “rush things too quickly too soon” without the general public’s support.
Youngspiration was formed in 2015, after the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that led to a 79-day occupation of main thoroughfares. The party initially aimed at formulating policies and gaining seats in the government through elections in order to protect the interests of Hongkongers.
In response, Leung said he did not agree with Yeung, as he has decided to go the other way round after the 2016 oath-taking controversy.
“[Yeung’s idea] was a typical Youngspiration thought – to go into the community through elections, to prove that what we did in 2014 was correct,” he said.
“Those who will have their political awakening would already have woken up. It’s been so many years. If you haven’t read any Hong Kong news for four years, you won’t do so in the next 40 years,” he said.
“I have cared less or calculated less about public reactions,” he added. “Maybe selfishly, I don’t have re-election pressure anymore, so I would rather do what is right, instead of [caring about] public reactions.”