Overseas activists have set up a party to campaign for independence for Shanghai, in a move likely to be anathema to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The founders of the Shanghai National Party, many of whom live in New York state, say they want to campaign for "independence and autonomy" for the city, which currently takes its orders direct from central government in Beijing.
The party's Twitter account announced it had held its founding committee meeting in New York on Aug. 12, with 18 people present.
According to an article in Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily, the party was set up to "completely subvert the concept of China."
The party says it doesn't recognize the unification of China in 256 BC, and supports self-rule by the people of Shanghai, as well as wholesale Westernization, the paper said.
Party leader and artist He Anquan, who was present at the inaugural meeting, said the group had taken its inspiration from the Hong Kong independence movement that sprang out of the failed 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections.
"There have also been calls for independence in Taiwan, and in Tibet and Xinjiang," He told RFA. "So I think I can call for independence for Shanghai."
"I think independence for Shanghai is achievable; we can turn it into a completely Western city, because it grew out of the era of foreign [colonial] concessions," he said.
He said he believes in "total Westernization" for China, a concept which involves stripping out the elements of Chinese traditional culture from a democratic system with the rule of law.
"I believe that it is difficult to achieve democracy and the rule of law on the basis of Chinese traditional culture, because traditional Chinese culture is really inferior," he said.
‘Just isn’t realistic’
Shanghai-based dissident Ren Naijun said the move has sent ripples through dissident circles in China, sparking considering debate and controversy.
Ren said people's energies would be better deployed in trying to make China more democratic, however.
"Why shouldn't they be doing this? Because independence for Shanghai just isn't realistic," Ren said. "They should be working for a democratic China."
"I neither support nor oppose independence for Shanghai; I just think we should be working towards something achievable," he said.
The move came amid an ongoing row over plans by the Hong Kong government to ban the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), which advocates independence for the city, and amid strident criticism of the city's Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) for giving a platform to HKNP leader Chan Ho-tin, also known as Andy Chan.
Zhang Xiaoming, a high-ranking Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, said on Wednesday that the FCC had broken the law by allowing Chan to speak.
China's foreign ministry had earlier issued a statement saying that the club had "seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."
According the FCC had not simply been "unfriendly" to China, but had "aided separatism," Zhang said, and had ignored repeated calls to cancel the event.
The city's chief executive Carrie Lam said her administration was opposed to any media organization providing independence advocates with a platform to promote their views.
Chan told the FCC on Tuesday: "Sadly, we are a nation that is quickly being annexed and destroyed by China. The cry for Hong Kong independence is therefore a cry against colonial invasion."
However, he rejected the use of violence to achieve his party's aims.
Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms of speech, association and publication under the terms of a treaty handing the city back to China in 1997.
But the bid to ban the HKNP is the latest in a string of attacks on free speech and Beijing-backed controls on the city's once-vibrant political life.
Chan called on the U.S. to debate using certain sanctions under the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act, which accepts the city's trading standards for imported goods, provided it remains relatively autonomous, and requires its autonomy to be monitored by Washington.
"Just think how much influence the U.S. has with China," he said. "It could broaden the trade war to include Hong Kong, because a lot of Chinese nationals have their capital here."
"The U.S. could strike an economic blow against China it if really wanted to," he said. "The Hong Kong Policy Act shouldn't just be ignored."
End of traditional freedoms
Moves by the Hong Kong government to ban the HKNP, which advocates independent status for the city, have been widely criticized as representing the end of traditional freedoms of speech and association.
Hong Kong police have gathered more than 700 documents as "evidence" supporting their call to ban the HKNP, citing many public speeches and comments made by Chan.
Critics have hit out at the government for criminalizing speech in the city, which was promised the continuation of its existing way of life for 50 years, under the terms of the 1997 handover to China.
The Hong Kong government shelved its initial bid to bring in subversion and sedition laws following a mass street protest of around half a million people in 2003, but the Chinese Communist Party has said it expects the administration to introduce a new bill to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
Under the United Nations-endorsed Johannesburg Principles governing national security and human rights law, restrictions to freedom of speech on the grounds of national security aren't legitimate if they seek to "entrench a particular ideology," rather than to stave off a violent threat of a military or internal nature.
Reported by Wong Siu-san, Sing Man and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Chen Pan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.