Almost all of Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers, taking their cue from Beijing, jointly denounced liberal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting on Sunday for recently saying in Taiwan that Hong Kong could “consider becoming an independent state”.
The 41 legislators, with the exception of Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, condemned the University of Hong Kong law scholar for remarks they said were against the national constitution and the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
They said Tai had already brought “great damage” to society as a key leader of the 2014 Occupy movement, that led to 79 days of road blockades in the name of fighting for greater democracy. Now, by going outside Hong Kong to “further advocate independence”, his actions were “totally opposite” from what was in Hongkongers’ interest.
“For the sake of the welfare of Hong Kong citizens, we solemnly denounce Benny Tai, [he should] not make use of Hong Kong again as the testing ground for his political gimmicks!”
Their statement came barely a few hours after state news agency Xinhua slammed Tai for “purposefully and knowingly” challenging the nation’s constitution and the “constitutional order” of the “one country, two systems” policy.
“The central government has repeatedly and clearly expressed its zero tolerance stance for Hong Kong independence … as a university staff member, it is impossible that Tai is unaware of that but he still makes such remarks that Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent state,” the Xinhua commentary said.
On his Facebook page on Sunday, Tai said: “Cultural Revolution-style denouncement could have started against me. It will quickly spread to affect all Hong Kong people. Everyone will find themselves in danger.
“It’s not only that people cannot express objection, but they also have to be obsequious, or even turn in [those who do not support the authorities].”
Tai found himself in the centre of a political storm after his remarks at an event organised by a pro-independence organisation in Taipei were widely reported and scorned by pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong.
Video footage of the seminar showed Tai saying that following the end of “dictatorship”, the country’s various ethnic groups could exercise their right to self-determination and decide how they could link up with each other.
“We could consider going independent, being part of a federal system or a confederation system similar to that of the European Union,” he said.
On Friday, a Hong Kong government spokesman said it was “shocked” that a HKU teaching staff member had said the city could consider becoming an independent state, adding that it “strongly condemns such remarks”.
On Saturday, Beijing’s two departments in charge of Hong Kong affairs – the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong – strongly rebuked Tai for attempting to split the country and violating the constitution.
Tai responded by saying his comments were “imaginations of the future”, which in his opinion did not violate any criminal laws.
HKU governing council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung on Sunday said Tai’s views were his own and did not represent those of the university.
“If someone likes to make some absurd comments, we can’t stop them from doing so.”
On whether HKU would react, he added: “If something is illegal, then we will follow up, if it is not illegal, then we do not have the authority to follow up.”
But Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole deputy to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, advised HKU to consider whether Tai was still fit to teach.
“Is he attempting to link Taiwan independence with Hong Kong independence? If he is now teaching Hong Kong independence, he will mislead more youths and push them to a dead end. Is it still appropriate for him to remain at HKU? I hope HKU will consider this,” Tam said on a TV programme.