During the swearing-in ceremony of 70 new lawmakers at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on October 12, 2016, two lawmakers referred to the former British colony as the “Hong Kong nation” and laid out a banner bearing the words “Hong Kong IS NOT China.” A pro-Beijing publication in Hong Kong translated the word “nation” as “guo” in Chinese.
To be sure, “guo” or “guojia” can be understood as nation, country, or state.
Three facts should first be kept in mind. First, in the September election, a record 2.2 million Hongkongers or 58 percent of the electorate went to the polling booths. The localists and pan-democrats grabbed 1.19 million votes or 55 percent, as opposed to the 45 percent won by the pro-establishment and pro-Beijing lawmakers. Second, in early November, the above-mentioned lawmakers were disqualified by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. On November 15, the Hong Kong High Court ruled that they had declined to take their oaths by distorting them at the swearing-in ceremony and must, therefore, be disqualified from the Legco. Other 13 independence-leaning lawmakers might also be ejected. Third, Hong Kong is scheduled to elect its next Chief Executive in March 2017. It might take politics and governance of the city into unchartered waters.
Is Hong Kong a nation, country, or state? We should begin by first mentioning the October 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which led to the birth of nation-states. Since that time, we see many academics and experts trying to coin new terms and jargons related to nation, country, and state, so as to be closer to reality and to solve or resolve problems and issues.
This article will discuss some of them, so as to deduce which one is closer to Hong Kong’s status since July 1997 when it was returned to China.
Nation — which is related to a politically unified group of people who want to live together and govern themselves on a certain piece of land.
First, can we equate the Hong Kong nation with a First Nation or First Nation government?
No, this is because the latter two terms refer to various aborigines in Canada, who are either Inuit nor Métis, currently spreading across the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.
Second, can we regard the Hong Kong nation in the sense of the following words: allow the tribes to become “nations within a nation.” In this connection, in November 2006, the then-president of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian said a “new constitution must include a special clause” enshrining indigenous rights.
No, we cannot, because the Hong Kong people do not constitute a tribe. Besides, those words refer to the American Indian tribes, which are sometimes described as “nations within a nation,” having their own governments and laws in America.
Third, can the supporters of the Hong Kong nation follow the footsteps of the people of Quebec Province in Canada? In 1987, the Canadian government used the following words: “that province is a distinct society in Canada” to describe Quebec. On November 2006, the Canadian parliament passed a motion, designating Quebec Province “as a nation within Canada.”
No, we cannot, because Hong Kong is not a province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In this connection, the Hong Kong people have never conducted a plebiscite, in contrast to Quebec’s referendums in May 1980 and October 1995. The former granted the Provincial Government of Quebec a mandate to negotiate sovereignty-association, while the latter allowed the Quebec Government, after offering a partnership with Canada, to declare independence.
Fourth, is the Hong Kong nation an example of what Wei Yung, a Taipei-based political scientist, coined in the mid-1970s: multi-system nations (“duo tixi guojia”)?
No, this is because Wei was referring to divided states such as China, Vietnam, and Germany, after World War II. Hong Kong has never been a republic.
Can we regard the Hong Kong nation in the sense of the following words: allow the tribes to become “nations within a nation”?
Fifth, can the Hong Kong nation play a brand-new ball game? In October 2016, a new nation in outer space, Asgardia, was proposed by Igor Ashurbeyli. Since the 100,000 Asgardians will regard themselves as Earthlings, they plan to join the United Nations (UN). A follow-up question is: Can those supporters of the Hong Kong nation first join the space nation, as a confederate, a member of commonwealth, etc., so as to eventually be a member state of the UN later on?
No, it is not possible, because the Hong Kong nation must be created first somewhere on our planet. It is expected that the PRC will never allow such a development to take place. As President Xi Jinping said in early November to a group of visiting Kuomintang members, the people of the Chinese mainland will overthrow the ruling party should Taiwan become the Republic of Taiwan.
Country — which is a geographic-oriented term.
First, can the Hong Kong nation be regarded like the Republic of Iraq? “Iraq is an ancient country, but a new nation.”
No, the logic does not flow, because Hong Kong has never been an ancient country. So, how can a new nation emerge on that piece of territory called Hong Kong?
Second, is the Hong Kong nation a foreign country?
No, Hong Kong was never a sovereign, independent country in the first place.
Third, can the Hong Kong nation be called the mother country?
No, China is the motherland of Hong Kong, not vice versa. If archaeological studies can be the guide, the human presence in the Chek Lap Kok area (now Hong Kong International Airport) merely dates from 35,000 to 39,000 years ago and on the Sai Kung Peninsula from 6,000 years ago.
State — which usually refers to government agency, unit, etc.
First, can we identify the Hong Kong nation with the Hong Kong state?
No, this is because the PRC Government has clearly stated that China is “a unitary (or undivided) state” (“danyi guojia”) or “a unitary multi-ethnic country jointly created by its people of all ethnic groups.”
Second, should the Hong Kong nation be upgraded to the Hong Kong state, can we say that there is no difference between the Hong Kong state and the State of Palestine? (A Palestinian state alongside Israel implies the recognition of the State of Israel.)
No, and it is 100 percent doubtful that the Hong Kong SAR would become a nation in the first place. It follows that a State of Hong Kong will never be launched.
Third, can the Russian term “blizhneye zarubezhye” (near abroad), which refers to the newly independent republics (other than Russia itself, such as the Baltic states and East Slavic states) which emerged after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, be applied to the relationship between the Hong Kong SAR and the Chinese mainland?
No, and it is 100 percent doubtful that the Chinese mainland ruling party will collapse in March 2017. Hence, the Russian political language of the near abroad cannot be applied to the Hong Kong nation and the Chinese mainland.
However, in the future when a global village surfaces, terms like nation, country, and state could be become irrelevant and discarded by many, if not, most academics and experts.
In the final analysis, none of the above-mentioned terms fit Hong Kong SAR. We must face reality, that is, Hong Kong no doubt before and after March 2017 will remain a special administrative region under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement, no more, no less. It is definitely not possible for the localists and pan-democrats to be the majority in the 1,200-member Election Committee. One thing is for sure, that is, the April 1990 Basic Law will allow Hong Kong to keep its capitalist way of life until June 30, 2047.