The majority of young people in Hong Kong now support the idea of formal independence for neighboring Taiwan, as the government moves to ban a separatist political party in their own city on "national security" grounds.
In a recent public opinion poll by the University of Hong Kong, 60 percent of respondents aged 18-29 said the democratic island should be allowed independent sovereign status as a country, a notion that is anathema to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
Meanwhile, respondents in the 40-49 age group to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 Hong Kong residents were evenly divided on the issue.
And 59 percent of all respondents supported Taiwan being allowed to rejoin the United Nations, the highest level since 1993.
Taiwan, which has been officially governed by the 1911 Republic of China since the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek fled there in 1949, lost its seat to the People's Republic of China in the United Nations in 1971.
Since then, Beijing has sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and has threatened to use military force if the democratic island ever seeks formal statehood.
It proposes "reunification" with Taiwan, which it has never governed, under the "one country, two systems" formula promised to Hong Kong.
But in Hong Kong, the government has moved to ban politicians and parties seen by Beijing as a threat to its "national security" because of their support for more autonomy, or independence, for Hong Kong.
Moves by the Hong Kong government to ban the Hong Kong National Party, which advocates independent status for the city, have been widely criticized as representing the end of its traditional freedom of speech and association promised under the terms of the city's 1997 handover to China.
Hong Kong police have gathered more than 700 documents as "evidence" supporting their call to ban the Hong Kong National Party, citing many public speeches and comments made by its convenor Chan Ho-tin. The party now has until Sept. 4 to make its case to the security minister before a formal ban.
Police have accused the HKNP of posing an "imminent threat" to China’s territorial integrity and national security, because Chan has refused to rule out the use of force or civil disobedience.
The police have advised that the government should therefore "take precautionary measures" to prevent the party seeking to carry out such plans, by banning it under laws governing the formation of societies.
'Controlled by China'
Tsay Ting-kuei, chairman of the pro-independence Free Taiwan Party, said that older people in Hong Kong have always seen Taiwan as a part of China, while younger people are more concerned with freedom, democracy and human rights.
"These results aren't surprising," Tsay said. "China promised Hong Kong [governance under] one country, two systems, but it has yet to keep its promises after so many years."
"Young people in Hong Kong have seen this growing up, and they're not prepared to accept any more lies," he said. "What's more, the suppression has gotten much worse lately, to the extent that Hong Kong is now effectively controlled by China."
"Things are tough for our friends in Hong Kong, so naturally they don't want to see Taiwan turn into another version of Hong Kong," he said.
In Hong Kong, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai agreed, saying dissatisfaction at home made Hong Kong's youth more sympathetic to Taiwan.
"This is a projection of their dissatisfaction with Chinese Communist Party rule," Wu said. "Over the past decade or so, everyone has seen that the Communist Party has taken a hard line on Hong Kong, and that universal suffrage isn't going to happen."
"In addition ... Beijing is doing everything it can to suppress Taiwan in all areas of international relations, which also creates dissatisfaction among the entire younger generation," he said.
Last week, the Hong Kong government hit out at the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) after it invited HKNP leader Chan Ho-tin, also known as Andy Chan, to speak at a lunch event in the face of widespread criticism from ruling Chinese Communist Party officials and supporters.
Chan gave his lunchtime address to the club in spite of warnings and threats from Hong Kong officials, and amid calls for the government to evict the club from its premises in the downtown Central district.
But critics hit out at the government for criminalizing speech in the city, which was promised the continuation of its existing way of life for 50 years.
The Hong Kong government shelved its initial bid to bring in subversion and sedition laws following a mass street protest of around half a million people in 2003, but the Beijing has said it expects the administration to introduce a new bill to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
Under the United Nations-endorsed Johannesburg Principles governing national security and human rights law, restrictions to freedom of speech on the grounds of national security aren't legitimate if they seek to "entrench a particular ideology," rather than to stave off a violent threat of a military or internal nature.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.