The Hong Kong Independence Movement began with the birth of pro-democracy groups. Since the 1990s, pro-democracy activists have argued that Article 45 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that universal suffrage is the territory’s ultimate political aim. However, Article 45 gives no specific dates or instructions as to how to achieve this suffrage.
In August 2014, the Chinese Communist Party released a proposal giving Beijing the power to veto a candidate for the role of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, thereby ensuring that only pro-Beijing candidates would ever fill this position. Suffragists took to the streets to protest this apparent restraint of Hong Kong’s autonomy, participating in public rallies and student strikes. This was to become known as the seminal ‘Umbrella Movement.‘
Also known as ‘Occupy Central,’ this 2014 movement took place over 79 days, from September 28th to December 15th, making international headlines. Thousands took to the streets to call for Hong Kong’s right to elect its own chief executive, but Beijing refused to concede. This high-profile dispute was a crucial turning point in the history of the Hong Kong Independence Movement, causing calls for the territory’s complete separation from the mainland to filter into mainstream political discourse.
Even in the wake of the Umbrella Movement, Beijing has shown an increasing propensity to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs. Most notably, the 2015 kidnappings of five Hong Kong booksellers who sold books critical of China’s leaders were met with unease and agitation. These encroachments upon the rights of Hongkongers caused a dramatic political and cultural shift in a very short period of time. As a consequence, Hong Kong’s millennials increasingly identify as Hongkongers, rather than as Chinese. A poll conducted in July 2016 found that 17.4% of respondents supported Hong Kong’s independence, and the city’s first pro-independence rally was held on August 5th of this year. However, such appeals for independence have been dismissed by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, as well as by other officials from Hong Kong and China.
In the 2016 Legislative Council elections, the public elected six localist candidates who support Hong Kong’s right to self-determination, out of a possible 40 seats. Beijing loyalists and pro-establishment conservatives won only 40% of the vote, dashing their hopes for a veto-proof two-thirds majority. These new, pro-independence lawmakers, consisting of post-Occupy activists in their 20s, are paving a brand new path for the Hong Kong Independence Movement.