The run-up to the Sept. 4 election for Legislative Council is getting tense, and the governments of both Hong Kong and Beijing are watching with keen interest. For the first time, a crop of fresh-faced candidates who cut their political teeth during the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014 are hoping to bring to the lawmaking body their battle to emancipate Hong Kong from Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian control. The activists, most of whom are in their 20s, no longer believe in the promises of the “one country, two systems” principle set out in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
Even after paralyzing major traffic hubs in the city for 79 days in 2014, they failed to obtain any concession to democratize the rules by which the head of Hong Kong’s government, the chief executive, is nominated and elected. They concluded from the experience that democracy is impossible in Hong Kong as long as the territory remains under Chinese sovereignty.
These “paratroopers” — as they are affectionately called by supporters in homage to their standing up to police brutality — are now asking for more than they were during the Umbrella Movement, or than the mainstream pro-democracy camp known as the pan-democrats. Two years ago, as protesters, they invoked the Basic Law to demand true universal suffrage and a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong. Today, they are calling for Hong Kong’s right to self-determination or even outright independence from China in 2047, when the Basic Law is set to expire.