While a group of student activists, who rose to prominence during Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, launched a new political party on Sunday, they stopped short of calling for independence for the former British colony.
Joshua Wong, who became a figurehead of the Occupy Central movement alongside fellow activists Nathan Law and Agnes Chow, said the trio's new party, Demosisto, will field candidates in the city's legislative elections later this year.
Demosisto's manifesto includes a promise to use non-violent resistance in the fight for self determination, and a pledge to hold a referendum in 10 years' time to allow Hong Kong's seven million eligible voters to decide their own fate.
Wong, who at 19 is too young to run for the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), brushed aside recent comments and warnings from Beijing officials and the Hong Kong government over growing calls for independence, saying it isn't the new party’s main issue.
"Self-determination is ... the most important political agenda for Demosisto," Wong told reporters at the party's launch on Sunday.
"The most important thing is not whether Hong Kong can be independent or not; it's whether Hong Kong can achieve democracy and self-governance," he said. "At least let Hong Kongers decide the future of Hong Kong, rather than allowing the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party to determine our future."
He said self-determination wouldn't happen quickly, and called on the international community to continue to monitor events in Hong Kong, where the recent detention of four booksellers from the city and the disappearance of a fifth from inside the city's separate immigration border has prompted fears that the city's autonomy may already be a thing of the past.
"The continuing concern of the international community will be the most important factor in ensuring the progress of movements for democracy and self-determination in Hong Kong," said Wong, who was recently denied both personal and joint bank accounts by HSBC, which cited "business reasons."
No immediate independence option
Meanwhile, Demosisto chairman Nathan Law said he didn't believe campaigning for independence is an immediate option for the party.
"Our core value is that we believe that Hong Kong people should have the right to self-determination," Law said. "We think that if Hong Kong has the right to self-determination, then [independence] may be one of the options."
But he added: "We don't see [much] possibility of having independence in the near future."
Earlier this month, judicial chief Rimsky Yuen said free speech has its “limits” despite constitutional protections, and that the city's police would consider investigating members of a new political party advocating independence for Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), announced on April 3 it would campaign in the forthcoming legislative elections on a pro-independence platform and against the city's post-1997 mini-constitution, sparking a flurry of criticism from Chinese officials.
Law suggested that Demosisto is unlikely to pay much attention to criticisms of the pro-democracy and "localist" movements emanating from Beijing.
"The truth is that in any circumstance in Hong Kong, we don't see any outcome when we communicate with the central government, so for now we won't have any communication with the government unless there is a huge change in their attitude," he said.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction for 50 years under the "one country, two systems" pledge from Beijing.
But what happens after that date has never been spelled out by the Chinese government.
"I hope that we will have the opportunity to determine our own future in 2047, if the self-determination movement is a success, that is," Law said. "There could be options [in the planned referendum] that include independence and the continuation of Chinese rule."
But the head of the youth group Youngspiration, Baggio Leung, a prominent voice in the "localist" movement rejecting Beijing's influence in Hong Kong, said time may be running out for the city.
"I don't think Hong Kong can afford to wait 10 years. We are already in a race against time," Leung told reporters. "Also, it's not a simple matter, to arrange a referendum."
"There are many factors that would have to be in place before that could happen," said Leung, whose group scored a number of surprise victories in post-Umbrella Movement district-level elections. The group has also announced plans to field candidates for LegCo this year.
Youngspiration says it is teaming up with grassroots groups including the Kowloon East Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power, and Tuen Mun Community to form a common political platform.
The alliance will field candidates in four geographical constituencies: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon East, Kowloon West, and New Territories West, while Demosisto is eyeing two LegCo seats on Hong Kong Island.
However, there are concerns that Beijing's influence may already be making life more difficult for the fledgling groups.
Demosisto member and film director Kenneth Ip, also known as Shu Kei, had a planned radio commentary commissioned by government broadcaster RTHK canceled at short notice, sparking concerns over possible self-censorship at the station.
Ip said via his Facebook account that he had planned to speak about the Occupy movement, "poor governance" by incumbent chief executive Leung Chun-ying, and the controversial dystopian movie "10 Years" in the "Letter to Hong Kong" program.
Pan-democratic lawmaker Claudia Mo suggested publicly that RTHK might have practiced self-censorship and called on its bosses to explain the move.
A spokeswoman for the station, which is a department of the Hong Kong government, said political censorship was never a factor. She said the cancellation was mutually agreed with Ip.
The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index for journalists, which measures how professionals feel about the media environment in the city, fell by 0.7 points in 2015. Public perceptions of press freedom fell by 1.4 points, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
Self-censorship was highlighted as a major area of concern, with the majority of journalists rating it as very common, particular in relation to stories criticizing the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, the HKJA said in a report last month.\
Reported by Wong Si-lam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.