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.