“It’s Time for Us To Set a New Political Agenda for Hong Kong”
by Jonathan Landreth, Susan Jakes, Isaac Stone Fish / May 24, 2016 / ChinaFile
A Q&A with Student Activist Joshua Wong
Last month, midway through a whirlwind tour of United States universities, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong took a break for a crab cake and mac-and-cheese lunch at a Manhattan brasserie. Wong, 19, came to international prominence during the Umbrella Movement of 2014 as the face and voice of a generation of Hong Kong youngsters dissatisfied with politics in a Chinese city that was once a British colony. By then, Wong was already something of a veteran agitator. As a middle school student, he had organized a small but vocal group called Scholarism, to protest the introduction of a “patriotic education” curriculum he and other critics saw as being forced upon Hong Kong’s schools by Beijing.
Since the Umbrella Movement’s end, Wong has entered university, where he is studying politics and, just a few weeks ago, founded his own new political party, which he hopes will be a platform for his ambition to enter Hong Kong politics as an advocate for greater “self-determination” for his hometown. Last week, he and four other members of the party, Demosistō, were detained for causing an “unlawful disturbance” while protesting during the visit to Hong Kong of Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of China’s National People’s Congress. Wong was released from police custody last Thursday. Meanwhile, he awaits a verdict in a trial for unlawful assembly, which could carry a sentence of up to five years. Wong spoke with ChinaFile editors Susan Jakes and Jonathan Landreth and Foreign Policy Asia Editor Isaac Stone Fish. What follows is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
How do you feel things are going in Hong Kong?
Since the end of the Umbrella Movement, what we have tried to do is just define the next step for Hong Kong. Before the Umbrella Movement, people thought that under the promise of the Joint Declaration made by Beijing, Hong Kong deserved universal suffrage and democracy. But now we are 19 years past the handover [of Hong Kong from Britain to China] and we’ve gained nothing; we’ve had large-scale movement, the Umbrella Movement, we still haven’t gotten back universal suffrage. So it’s the time for us to set a new political agenda and to move forward to reach democracy.
So what is the new political agenda?
Self-determination. There was a negotiation about the future of Hong Kong, and only the British and China decided the arrangement of Hong Kong. When some Hong Kongers argued, “Why can’t Hong Kongers be involved in the negotiations?” all we faced was China’s denying Hong Kong any involvement in future negotiations over Hong Kong. Finally, they drafted the Joint Declaration and decided the future of Hong Kong… Our worst case prediction is that One Country, Two Systems will change to be One Country, One System, and Hong Kong will be fully merged with China … and Hong Kong won’t be Hong Kong anymore, it’ll just be called Hong Kong. The thing we worry about is that in the last century Beijing and the British [represented their own decisions as] “Hong Kongers deciding the future of Hong Kong.” We don’t want that same mistake to happen again in this century.
How do you get the majority of Hong Kong people to agree with that idea, and then somehow to get Beijing to agree to it?
If we want to get Beijing to agree on it, we need to get the international community’s support and we believe that under international law we deserve the right to self-determination.
Do you think there is a consensus in Hong Kong?
If you ask Hong Kongers to agree on self-determination, they may just ask, “What is self-determination?” Before asking them to agree, first let me familiarize you with this idea at the center of the movement. But if you ask Hong Kongers, no matter if they are from the business sector or they are just ordinary people in Hong Kong, I believe most of them would hope that the future of Hong Kong be determined by Hong Kongers. Because everyone, even some who are pro-Beijing, really are afraid that Hong Kong will turn from One Country, Two Systems to One Country, One System. And actually, there was a story a few months ago that HSBC had rejected their plan to set up their headquarters in Hong Kong because they were afraid of the end of 50 years of unchanged policy. Even if the human rights condition in Singapore seem to be worse than in Hong Kong, at least the political conditions are [more] stable than in Hong Kong.
If people hope to maintain the free market and the business environment of Hong Kong, it’s necessary for them to endorse self-determination to maintain at least the self-governance and autonomy of Hong Kong. Read more…