Independence for Hong Kong ruled out by departing leader

Panel of just 1,200 will elect new chief executive in March as CY Leung steps down

Independence is not an option for Hong Kong, outgoing chief executive CY Leung said in his farewell speech, as attentions in the territory now turn to the limited election for his successor on March 26th.

Leung Chun-ying, or CY Leung, who cited family reasons for not standing in the upcoming polls, is seen by democracy activists in Hong Kong as being too close to Beijing, and he repeated that efforts to separate Hong Kong from the mainland were doomed to fail.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule 20 years ago.

“There is no room for independence or any kind of separation,” he said in a speech to the legislative council in Hong Kong. “It is the obligation of each and every Hong Kong citizen to safeguard our country’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”


For many, Mr Leung’s administration will mostly be remembered for the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, during which police used tear gas on protesters who blocked Hong Kong’s commercial centres for 79 days.

Strictly marshalled by Beijing, Mr Leung’s government did not back down in the face of calls for greater democracy.

The failure of the Umbrella movement was followed by a sharp rise in calls for self-determination by the "localist" movement, and Mr Leung has taken a hard line on dealing with any calls for greater autonomy for Hong Kong.

The territory is technically guaranteed a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" arrangement brokered before the British left in 1997, but incidents such as the apparent abduction of booksellers critical of China into mainland prisons has raised fears that Hong Kong's freedoms are under threat.

Mr Leung has been involved in a legal battle against activists from the independence movement to disqualify them from taking their seats in the legislative council after they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a banner declaring “Hong Kong is not China” during their swearing-in ceremony in October.

Only 1,200 Hongkongers are allowed to vote in the chief executive elections and the panel is composed almost exclusively of pro-Beijing candidates and representatives from big business.

Property market

Political reform in the city has largely stalled, while efforts to cool the property market, including a new sales tax late last year, have not succeeded.

Chinese Communist Party leaders are angry at growing support for parties calling for independence and self-determination in the former British colony.

There were protests from a small group of democrats during the legislative council session at which Mr Leung made his farewell speech. One of the territory's most famous anti-establishment figures, the League of Social Democrats' "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who has been ejected from the chamber during Mr Leung's previous four speeches, asked for the meeting to be adjourned. When his request was denied, he left the chamber chanting "Leung Chun-ying, liar," the South China Morning Post reported.

For most of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents, the lack of affordable housing is the most pertinent issue and Mr Leung described the surge in housing prices as the “gravest potential hazard” to society. He said the need remained to increase housing supply through reclaiming land and by building new towns.

He became the territory's fourth chief executive in 2012, succeeding Donald Tsang.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing