29 January 2015

[Undergrad/HKUSU] J.Y.: HK Independence from A Military Perspective

HK Independence from a Military Perspective
Translated by HKCT Editorial Team, Written by J.Y. @ Undergrad, HKUSU (2014)
Original: http://www.vjmedia.com.hk/articles/2014/09/17/85336 

Hong Kong Independence (HKI) shall always be the last resort. Not only does independence mean losing the military protection by the Chinese army, orphaning Hong Kong in the international front; it also symbolises the separation of China's sovereignty of Hong Kong--a subject of great sensitivity to China. Even if we can resolve the problem of local supplies, but practically HKI campaign is a separatist revolution. Let's not forget that we are facing an autocratic regime; and it is a no-brainer to expect violent confrontation given Beijing's conservative attitude. Putting the motive of revolution aside, how to set independence in motion is an unavoidable conundrum that proponents of HKI have to face. Historically, the [ways an means] of an independence movement boils down to one of three events:

- armed independence;
- independence fostered by "foreign forces"; and
- independence with political negotiation.

With China's Communist Party in power and hungry with ambitions who sees Hong Kong as a means of bringing benefits unto itself, it is near impossible for Hong Kong to negotiate for its independence fairly and squarely. With one way down, are the other two ways viable options for Hong Kong?


An armed independence movement aims to achieve independence and autonomy by confronting the sovereign state with armed forces. Hence, the prerequisite of an armed independence movements is a local armed force. The price of independence by blunt force is no doubt astronomical, but here we will still present the arguments for the sake of discussion.

We can study the feasibility of mobilising internal forces against external forces. A local armed force must rely on number and armaments. For army, despite having a population of seven million, it is impractical to count all of them as all social and economic activities that sustain the city will cease. For armament, as Hong Kong is not an military region, the only form of weaponry is within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Garrison and the Police Force. Any form of navy or air force requires far greater resources, so the only possible armed independence for Hong Kong would be setting up an infantry regiment.

As to the formation of a local army, we can take reference from Singapore's National Service (NS), the compulsory enlistment system in the nation. All of the 1.9 million male Singaporean citizens not holding a foreign nationality and who have attained the military age is required by law to be enlisted for two years. Singapore is currently protected by a force of 31,800 regular servicemen, 39,800 active personnel and over 950,000 reserve personnel, which correspond to 1.8%, 2.2% and 52.7% of the male population, respectively.

With about 2,680,000 physically-fit male over the age of 18 in Hong Kong, it is possible that we can have a local army of 50,000 regular soldiers, assuming a similar conscription proportion. If Hong Kong is to adopt the Singapore military age between 16 and 24, the number rises to 66,000 regular servicemen each year. After a decade, at least 700,000 personnel would be available as reserve army. As for expenditure, military expenses of Singaporean government total around USD9.9 billion every year, taking up 3.6% of its GDP. According to the same percentage, with our GDP in 2012 at USD263.3 billion, a sum of USD9.47 billion would be needed to sustain our military force, which would make up around 18.6% of the total expenditure in the 2012-2013 fiscal year (HKD393.7 billion).

Having said that, even if proponents of HKI can mobilise local forces, military pressure from China still exists. As the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War posits, "Precise knowledge of self and precise knowledge of the threat leads to victory". We have a garrison of 6,000-strong PLA stationed in Hong Kong. They are responsible to Beijing for the defense of Hong Kong. With army, navy and air forces spreading around HK, the PLA will be tackling the safety issue if necessary. So when there is HKI revolution, the first obstacle will be these PLA. As Hong Kong is next to Macau, there are 1,000-strong Macau Garrison. We have to face 7,000 PLAs, which means violent and blood scenes will be unavoidable if confrontation has to take place.

And if local force could achieve temporary victory in Hong Kong and get the armament and materials of HK and Macau, HKI supporters still have to face the army across the river. There are seven military regions in China, and Hong Kong is under Guangzhou Military Region, which looks over Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei and Hainan. Its mission is to protect the south, and provide support to HK and Macau Garrison. When HKI revolution took place, and the Garrisons were evicted, the Guangzhou Garrison will be alert immediately. It mainly stations in Guangdong and Guangxi, with the 41st and 42nd Group Army. 41st has one division, five battalions and four regiments, 42nd has one division, nine divisions and four regiments, and there are 130,000 army in two Group Armies, with army, infantry, tank, armoured, artillery and so on.

But on the other hand, the HKI troops could only obtain limited armaments from the PLA Garrison and the Police Force, and more than 130,000 navy and air force excluding the army in Guangzhou Military Region. Facing such a large difference in armament with the strong military power across the river, Hong Kong cannot avoid being attacked. We might use "guerrilla tactics", but yet that turns the territory into a war zone, where daily lives could not be sustained anymore. The result would be equally pathetic, eventually the Chinese force will occupy Hong Kong, and HKI campaign will be completely destroyed.


If armed independence is not an easy approach, what about seeking support from external forces? Comparing to armed independence, seeking support from external forces enables more bargaining power for the region. For Hong Kong, we have the foundation for independence, but the catalytic element and power are not mature yet. If it is possible to seek intervention from external forces, it means the HKI revolution is not alone anymore, and will become a symbol of upward spiral from a local war to an international scheme. If Hong Kong has to reach HKI, there are two streams of forces: independence forces in China and the Great Powers overseas.

The independence campaign around China includes Tibet-Independence, Xinjiang/East Turkistan-Independence [hereinafter Xinjiang], and Taiwan-Independence. Three campaigns have a long history. The first two have stronger intention to have self-determination; while the latter one is due to conflicts in ideology. Putting Taiwan-Independence aside, the maxim of ethnic policy in China is to eliminate various cultures. The Five Races Under One Union policy no longer exist, causing Tibet and Xinjiang in a rage, thus standing out and confront Beijing. Although the background of three campaigns are different, yet the goal is the same, and HKI campaign can obtain their support theoretically. When Hong Kong and the other two regions become allies, there will be two possible results:

A better one: the sparks of independence campaign spread over the south, the north and the west; China will be separated. HKI supporters will take such advantage and claim independence. When three places became independent, the alliance could turn into a confederate system, with diplomacy and containment to China. Yet in terms of territory, Tibet and Xinjiang are too far from Hong Kong, and it would be hard to support each other. Moreover, the flow of information might be obstructed, and HKI revolution might be suppressed quickly without getting support from the two regions.

A worse one: When Beijing knows nearly 30% of its territory are separated, they might suppress these campaigns mercilessly with its own army, the result would be far less autonomy and more dictatorship.

As to the alliance between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Among the four regions, Taiwan is most mature to the step of independence. Taiwan became the territory of Kuomintang, as in the late 1940s, KMT lose lots of battles and retreated to an island with a strait in between. Although there are a lot of people supporting of "Taiwan-Independence" (TWI), but in fact, Taiwan has its own autonomy, political system, military forces, diplomacy (though limited) - it is nearly an independent political entity. The TWI supporters are just waiting for recognition in the world. The co-existence of China and Taiwan is due to the shady relationship in the politic and economic field. But if Taiwan supports Hong Kong, it is no different than declaring war to China. In recent years, the Taiwan authorities have been standing closer to China. It is not beneficial for Taiwan to support Hong Kong - at least not in Ma Ying-jeou's tenure.

While it is hard to have independence campaign with these three places, how about with other regions? For the current China, the incentive of new independence movement is still not in place, but there are still a lot of problem causing social instability. In recent years, Beijing tries to pull the reins in on the policy of southern languages/dialects, and to suppress regional culture. Few years ago, they tried to replace the broadcasting language of Guangzhou (Canton) TV with Mandarin, instead of the commonly-used language in the province, Cantonese. This caused a lot of reaction and confrontation from Cantonese people. Although the movement is limited, it shows that the conflicts between Cantonese and Beijing authorities are looming large, and it is not impossible to have a civil war. As Guangdong and Guangxi speaks Cantonese as well, and Hong Kong is adjacent to them, it might be possible to have a "Lingnan"-independence.

The south has been the revolution hotbed in the Chinese history. It is not a day-dream for Guangdong and Guangxi ["Two Guangs"] to be independent. During the Boxers' Rebellion, the revolutionaries once lobbied Li Hung-chang, the then famous diplomat and Governor of Two Guangs, for establishing a "Two Guangs" Republic. But the situation changed then, so it was put at the back burner.

Two Guangs is at the south of Qinling [Translator's note: That's why it is called Lingnan], a region with rugged terrain. Guangxi is surrounded by mountains, and Guangdong is mountainous at its north, flatland at its south, therefore not so easy to tackle with. Two Guangs were originally the country of Nanyue/Nam Yuet back in Han dynasty, and was a hotly contested area. Now Hong Kong has no geographical obstacles, nor we have food to rely upon.

If we reconsider the Two-Guangs-Independence, with its area of over 400,000 km2, it can become a barrier in protecting Hong Kong and providing supplies. If we refer to Singapore, from the estimates of 150 million residents in Two Guangs, then we can have at least 1.35 million of regular army, and with the forces in Hong Kong, then 1.4 million army in total can be gathered - that is a figure higher than half of the PLA amount. Yet lots of the population in Two Guangs are from other provinces, so it is still uncertain to tell the strength of such force.

We have two methods in applying this: bottom-up or top-down. Bottom-up one cannot really gather people, and Two Guangs include the Guangzhou Military Region, where the main force is the army. Such method will cause a prompt failure; top-down one will be a coup d'etat. In recent years, Xi Jinping combated many opposing factions in the excuse of anti-corruption, and put many of his nepots everywhere. Xu Fenlin (Guangzhou MR Chief of Staff) was quickly promoted as a commander and a general, and the political commissar Wei Liang was unconventionally promoted as a General too. Dual chief system is adopted in military regions of China, the commander controls the army, and the political commissar is the representative of the party, so as to "check and balance".

If two sides are not harmonious, there will be problems in their regions. Xu had his proven record to sit important positions, but the unconventional promotion of Wei Liang might be one of the scheme of Xi Jinping. Both Xu and Wei are pro-Xi, but Xu sowed the seed of discord as he felt nothing to fear due to his qualifications. There might be internal struggles or even riots, and Xu might gain his own troops and become a pioneer in Two-Guangs-Independece. But at the time warlords might not treat Hong Kong well and allow autonomy of Hong Kong as Two-Guangs will be in a mess. Two-Guangs-Indepedence might in turn trap the development of local autonomous campaign as the losses outweighed the gains.

Mainland China is not a source, then what about "external power"? Since 1997, there are "Return-to-Britain's-rule" supporters, who supported returning into the rule of Britain, or even become a colony again. Stepping back: if there are no "return-to-Britain's-Rule" supporters, and we only focus on autonomy - will Britain add pressure to China and help Hong Kong? The return thing has to do with the communist phobia, which is intertwined with the background as a British colony. In the last century, Britain was once called as "the empire on which the sun never sets", as she has colonies in many time zones. But now the military strength of the UK is not comparable to the past, along with economic and diplomatic plights.

In Afghanistan and Iraq War, the UK has toed the line with the US, and wants to be allies of the US. When two of the biggest economies in the world - China and India - rise, and the US wants to find new partners, then the status of UK will be faltered. So the UK will be conservative diplomatically, and it will be hard to foresee its support to HKI. Although the Sino-British Joint Declaration mentioned the delineation of rights between China and Hong Kong, the UK do not have the actual responsibility to pursue upon. A while ago the Parliament wanted to investigate on the practice of SBJD. It was but an act to allow the UK to be less embarrassing.

Will the US support us if the UK does not? We can treat Japan the same as the US given that Japan has been the cat's paw of the US in the Asian side after WWII and is still an ally of the US.  After all, Washington is eager to return to Asia-Pacific region, and Japan will be the chessboard of China and the US.

Regarding the conflict in South China Sea, the US has showed their support to Japan after their long term neutrality, and thus is said to aim at reducing China's sphere of influence. Meanwhile, Beijing has also taken a firm stance against it. Therefore it forms a constant antagonism between China and the US. Under such circumstance, the move is either to compromise or to take an unyielding stance.

Choosing the former one over the latter one means direct confrontation can be avoided. Yet it also represents the US, dodging the issues that might have caused offence to China, is not going to openly support HKI. In retrospect, the States intervened the First Taiwan Strait Crisis in a high-profiled manner; a mid-air collision between both sides' frighter aircrafts; the US bombing of the Embassy of the PRChina in Yugoslavia; all these have never triggered a war between the two countries. The tension of the two has existed for long. Now that the States has stepped into the issues of Ukraine, Iraq and their own political and economic situation, it is far too busy to ever participate in Asian matters. The political standoff against Asia may not turn to the fuse of wars.

But if the tension continues, a high possibility of wars outbreak is predicted. If such Sino-Japanese war does happen with the States engaging in, the HKI movement may arise among the chaos of wars given the instability of people's wills. To win the war, the States and Japan may help in achieving HKI, however, such independence will probably be reduced to a puppet regime. Also, the stability of a regime rising from a civil war is doubtful. Worse still, the Hong Kong stock market will be ruined overnight and all the autonomy resources and the estimation of economic cooperation will be hard to assumed.

The ideology of HKI has been originated and bred by the communism phobia sentiment in the 80s and the localism ideology since 2000s. Compared to other independence advocacy in other regions, the one in Hong Kong seems to be a political shout-out that is limited to emotional and sloganised acts. The feasibility and implementation have rarely been touched. And this is the need of existence of this article. I hope at least it can promote some further discussion on this matter.

Related content:
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Scream of Our Generation
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Chan Ya-ming: The Final Generation of Hongkongers
[Undergrad/HKUSU] Keyvin Wong: Localism: Hongkongers' Only Salvation

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