Localism is gaining momentum in Hong Kong – as can be seen by the fact that there are now six localist candidates in the Legislative Council. But despite the rhetoric that attracted so many votes, there are problems in both the idea of localism, and its practical application.
The practical issues are easy to identify. We export 54.8% and import 48.2% of our goods to China, and we rely on the mainland for our electric and water supplies. Hong Kong doesn’t exist in a vacuum – we need China for economic stability and as a line of defence. Plus, if the 852 became independent, it would be an easy target for the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army.
These reasons alone are enough to halt any serious efforts towards independence, but there are still strong objections against the very principle of localism itself.
One of the more convincing reasons for independence is the idea that we can protect our domestic freedoms from the repressive Central Government by becoming independent. The truth is that independence alone won’t help us protect our interests. If the city did become independent, the new government would use political repression and authoritarian rule to maintain power, because the localists simply don’t have the support of the majority that they would need to maintain independence. Sixtus Leung Chung-hang, one of the elected localists, has admitted that this would be the case. Another localist group, Studentlocalism, said that conscription (mandatory military service) would need to be introduced if Hong Kong achieved independence. Breaking away from the mainland to become another Singapore isn’t an improvement on what we have now.
Even if we consider support for localism as discontent towards the government and the state of our current economy, localism is still not the answer. Provoking Beijing does not result in concessions from the Central Government – instead, increasingly forceful measures are being placed against local opposition. The idea held by some localists that mainland immigrants are putting a strain on our welfare and is pushing up housing prices is also wrong. Mainland immigrants, at their peak, made up only 7.6% of all applications for social security and 9% of all property transactions. Therefore lodging a protest vote in favour of localism is ineffective for solving these problems.
Yes, there are glaring issues in Hong Kong that need to be addressed, but the localist movement has laid the blame for these issues on the wrong causes. It is time we focused on real and practical solutions to our problems, rather than continue to fight a pointless ideological battle.