A twist in the tale of a leader's warning

A twist in the tale of a leader's warning
Mr Brian Leung with the student publication, Hong Kong Nationalism, which has seen a surge in popularity after Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying slammed it for its “mis-stated facts”.

HONG KONG - The day after Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying delivered his annual policy address, another, younger, Leung is busy fielding calls from journalists and making arrangements for a new print run for a book called Hong Kong Nationalism.

Mr Brian Leung, 20, a government and law student at the University of Hong Kong, was editor of its student union magazine, Undergrad, which ran a series of essays last February on the theme of "Hong Kongers deciding their own fate", which were later compiled into a book and published.

One essay discusses if Hong Kong should have the right to debate the possibility of self-determination, with references to Catalonia, which will be holding an election in September on whether it should break away from Spain.

Another examines the rise of a unique Hong Kong identity and culture.

A third argues that "localism" - the idea that political power should be rooted in the local community - is the only way out for Hong Kong.

The book was published last September, with an initial print run of 2,500 copies, almost all of which have been sold.

After the older Leung singled it out for criticism in his policy address on Wednesday, netizens are now clamouring for more copies.

"We are looking at printing another 2,500 to 3,000 copies," Mr Brian Leungtold The Straits Times. "Thanks to the Chief Executive's 'promotion', we are experiencing unprecedented popularity."

The Hong Kong leader had, in an unusual move, lambasted the student publication, saying that "facts were mis-stated".

"We must stay alert," he said. "We also ask political figures with close ties to the leaders of the student movement to advise them against putting forward such fallacies."

The high-profile warning has since snowballed into a political kerfuffle, with charges from pan-democrat lawmakers yesterday that Mr Leung was stifling academic freedom and free speech.

The most colourful came from Labour Party's Mr Lee Cheuk Yan, who asked if Mr Leung was trying to become "Hong Kong's Mao Zedong and start a new Cultural Revolution by inciting class warfare" and "strike fear among students".

Addressing the Legislative Council yesterday, Mr Leung refuted such accusations, pointing out that in a society with freedom of speech, anyone - including himself - is free to express his opinion.

The episode has, unfortunately, overshadowed other aspects of the policy address, which many had looked to for how Mr Leung's government intends to address the aspirations and worries of the youth, especially in areas such as housing and social mobility.

This comes a month after the end of the student-led Occupy movement, primarily a fight for greater rights to directly elect the city's leader but which was also driven by unhappiness over income inequality and unaffordable homes.

As housing expert Edward Yiu Chung Yim of Chinese University of Hong Kong put it, "a large proportion of society will like to focus on local matters".

"We are trying to forget about the political debate and see if the government can move on urgent issues such as housing and population. I am not sure what the Chief Executive is trying to achieve with his criticism of the students."

For instance, a point in Mr Leung's address worth discussing is the proposed redevelopment of 300ha of brownfield land - disused industrial sites - which Professor Yiu says can accommodate 300,000 housing units and up to one million people.

"This is a positive response to public requests," he said.

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