Young politicians redefine HK debate as 2047 looms large

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2047 may have seemed too far off to consider in a time of Umbrella Revolution, District Council and now LegCo and CE elections. But young people are redefining the political debate as they look to their future in 2047.


There comes a moment of awakening for sleeping giants. In Hong Kong, that time has come.

Like Hong Kong in the 1980’s, not many have turned their eye to a far off day of political reckoning. In recent years, the issue of Hong Kong’s 2047 milestone received scant attention, with rare coverage from rare coverage from some like Jack Lee’s (李啟迪) (in Mingpao) and coverage by Harbour Times. A public suffering from the post-Umbrella Revolution syndrome was disoriented and has had little appetite for looking to the distant future.

In 1989, Tiananmen Square focused the minds of many. But in 2016, Mong Kok unrest and the later emergence of Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) has set people looking to longer term issues including the spectre of Hong Kong independence and the date of 1 July 2047. The debate has begun.


When Joshua Wong is 50

The Project Citizens Foundation (PSF) organised a forum last Friday (15 April) examining the factors making Hong Kong as an international financial centre. Speakers did not shy away from politically sensitive issues in front of the elite group. In front of the guests including the incumbent Financial Secretary John Tsang (曾俊華) and Group Chief Executive of HSBC Holdings Stuart Gulliver (歐智華), the Chairman of PSF Tsim Tak-lung (詹德隆) not only heavily criticised the poor governance of CY Leung’s administration, but also looked to Hong Kong’s political stability, a long standing pillar of the city’s success as a financial centre, as being under threat.

Mr Tsim takes Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), the prominent student activist who once appeared on the cover of Time (Asia Edition) in Oct 2014, as an example. Mr Tsim says Mr Wong only has 31 years to fight for the future of Hong Kong. In 2047, Mr Wong will only be 50 years old, ideally at the peak of his working, earning and parenting years. Mr Tsim argues that uncertainty about that future drives the restlessness of youth and the radicalisation of Hong Kong politics.


Success inspires

Young people in Hong Kong and localist groups have no fear proclaiming Hong Kong self-determination or Hong Kong independence as their ultimate goal or manifesto. It may be a case of shoot for the stars, get the moon, but it does seem to be reaping some political rewards. Edward Leung (梁天琦), the candidate of pro-independence party Hong Kong Indigenous (HKI), drew an unexpected 15.4% of the vote in the February 2016 LegCo by-election in New Territories East, the first ever votes cast for a pro-independence candidate in Hong Kong.  If he maintains his vote count in the election later this year, he could very well sit in LegCo. His success has inspired others.

Five days before the PSF forum, Youngspiration-led moderate localist groups announced the formation of an electoral alliance for the 2016 LegCo election (taking place in September), under the manifesto of ‘self-determination by Hongkongers as a people’. The electoral alliance will push for the government to hold a referendum to decide the future of Hong Kong in 2021, unlikely as that may be. HK independence would be included as an option.

The Youngspiration-led alliance clearly delineates a new faultline in Hong Kong politics and Hong Kong-China relations.

Not like us

The Youngspiration-led alliance clearly delineates a new faultline in Hong Kong politics and Hong Kong-China relations.

A clear line has been drawn between the pan-democracy camp and the localists. The pan-dems support ‘One Country, Two Systems’, articulated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, wherein it is stated that Hong Kong enjoys a ‘high-degree’ autonomy and ‘50 years of capitalist system being unchanged.’ It also asserts the sovereignty of Hong Kong as being firmly under the People’s Republic of China (PRC).


You’re not my boss (anymore)

Localists question the legitimacy of the Declaration as Hong Kong’s people had no say in their representatives included in the negotiations that took place from 1979 to 1984. The same thinking applies to the removal of Hong Kong from the UN list Non-Self-Governing Territories at the request of the newly recognised People’s Republic of China in 1972. Accordingly, they call for self-determination to become a crucial part of Hong Kong’s political future, bringing to an end the decisions about Hong Kong being made by non-Hong Kong people.


A turning point in the debate

Hong Kong-China relations are no longer a struggle about the definition and degree of ‘democracy’, but is quickly turning to the struggle between the centripetal force of unification (i.e. ‘One Country One System’) and centrifugal separation (i.e. Hong Kong independence), similar to the case in Taiwan. Beijing’s spokespersons warn the Hong Kong independence movement that it is harming the sovereignty and national security of PRC, which Hong Kong is legally a part of. The localists, who have little adherence to a pan-Chinese identity, question the legitimacy and legality of PRC citizenship in their HKSAR passports or immigration records.

If you plan to buy a property with a 30-year mortgage, no matter in New Territories, New Kowloon, Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, you should take notice of it.

It’s land issue too

In addition, the 2047 issue also creates uncertainty in the important area of land ownership. According to Annex 3 of the Declaration, the due date of land lease of New Territories and New Kowloon (i.e. Kowloon area north of Boundary Street) ends on 30 June 2047.

Many questions arise as to what will happen.

Investors and the public are starting to question what legal structure will apply in the New Territories and New Kowloon after 1 July 2047. The easiest and least controversial solution may be to communicate well in advance that the English legal system would be extended for another, say, 50 years. However, given the Beijing’s hardline stance towards Hong Kong, the likelihood of sole and compulsory implementation of land laws of China, under which all lands in the PRC territory are state-owned, cannot be excluded. Similarly, many land leases south of Boundary Street may be in a legal limbo, even if their land leases don’t come due until, say, 31 December 2086.  

If you plan to buy a property with a 30-year mortgage, no matter in New Territories, New Kowloon, Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, you should take notice of it.

The Hong Kong economy (especially the property market) is sure to be affected given the vague the uncertainty regarding land ownership in 2047. The economy of PRC, which relies on Hong Kong as an important offshore financial centre (e.g. initial public offerings of PRC state-owned, joint-venture and private enterprises, internationalisation of Renminbi, etc) could suffer from the political instability of Hong Kong too.


Don’t worry – trust me (or someone else in 30 years)

It stretches the credulity of some to claim that Beijing will effectively address all these concerns eventually. Property owners in Wen Zhou (in Zhejiang Province) realise unclear and inconsistent land titles are a big problem – one they are dealing with now.

Some property owners in Wen Zhou find that the due dates of 20-year land certificates they are holding come due soon, and are being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of RMB in ‘land transfer fees’ to register for new land certificates. The amount of the fee ranges from one-third to half of the property transaction prices.

The issue has become a big problem in PRC, since the Urban Real Estate Administration Law (《城市土地管理法》) and Property Law (《物權法》) conflict in terms of land use in due date. The Urban Real Estate Administration Law says the government reserves the right to withdraw the lands that are due, and have no eligible extention of land use, without paying any compensation. But the Property Law says the term of land use of residential land will be automatically extended once it is due, and the government cannot compulsorily withdraw the due residential land without paying any compensation. Nobody knows whether similar things will be seen in Hong Kong.  


The sooner the people and government of Hong Kong sit down with the Beijing authorities  to come up with solutions for the biggest unknown of the Fragrant Harbour, the earlier all parties, and the international community, will feel confident in investing in the future of the Pearl of the Orient. Young people in Hong Kong are pushing for the independence of Hong Kong as a means to answer the questions surrounding the issues concerning a post-2047 Hong Kong. Investors looking to a similar timeline have similar concerns. A hardline from Beijing asserting sovereignty, with no plan for the future other than dissolution of the border, doesn’t inspire confidence in our youth, property holders or investors.  If serious issues could be resolved by other means, many young people, today’s voters and tomorrow’s investors in the future of Hong Kong, are all ears.