28 September 2016

What's Next for Joshua? 黃之鋒去向

A lot has happened in Hong Kong in the two years since tens of thousands of student protesters occupied the city’s major thoroughfares to demand a free vote.

The so-called Umbrella Movement, which began on 28 September 2014 and went on for 79 days, was followed by a period of protest fatigue, polarization of society and increasing intervention by the Chinese government.

But for Joshua Wong, a mainstay of that movement and a household name both at home and abroad, the past 24 months have been a chance to reflect and reassess.

Boy wonder

Earlier this year, Wong disbanded a student group he set up in 2011 and co-founded a political party with fellow protest leader Nathan Law.

In the general election three Sundays ago, Wong, who at 19 was too young to run for office, took a back seat. He campaigned for Law in a bid for one of the 40 democratically elected seats in the city’s legislature. Law went on to win the election and become one of six fresh-faced lawmakers elected on a platform of increased autonomy from China.

And so, for the first time since was catapulted to international fame – after successfully thwarting the Hong Kong government’s attempt in 2012 to introduce a patriotic curriculum in primary and secondary schools – Wong was not the center of attention.

The day after his election win, Law appeared in major newspapers around the world. It was him – and not the much more famous Wong – who took live interviews with CNN and the BBC. In one telling photograph taken at the vote counting station, a jubilant Law was pictured cradling a bouquet of flowers while surrounded by cheering supporters. Standing next to him in the image was Wong, whose face was all but eclipsed by the oversized bouquet.

Law (center) and Wong (blocked by flowers)

Wong appeared unfazed by how the spotlight had shifted to his friend.

“I don’t mind being Nathan’s sidekick,” said Wong, in a sit-down interview at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a short walk from the main protest site in 2014. “In fact, I’m relieved that someone else is in the limelight for a change.”

“During the general election, I made sure that Nathan took center stage so that voters chose him because they knew him and not because they considered him my surrogate.”

Being in someone else’s shadow seems hardly cold at all, especially if you were named one of the world’s top ten leaders by Fortune magazine – as Wong was in 2015. The teenage student leader takes three to four interviews each day and holds daily meetings with like-minded activists and politicians. His jam-packed days begin at 9am and end well past midnight.

Wong’s schedule has not changed much since he graced the cover of Time magazine shortly after the Umbrella Movement erupted. The foreign press frequently compares him to that other teenage activist, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, in terms of charisma and name recognition.

His fame notwithstanding, Wong said he considered Law an important – and equal – partner. “We have so much on our plates: policy proposals, press interviews and community outreach. Neither of us can do it alone. As a lawmaker, Nathan will fight inside the legislature. I’ll continue my fight on the streets.”  

Part of that fight is to garner international support for the city’s pro-democracy movement. Before the recent election, he and Law toured Britain and the U.S., giving speeches at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford. With Law now focusing on the upcoming parliamentary session, Wong will take up the bulk of the overseas speaking engagements. The next couple of months will see him travel to Bangkok, Washington D.C., New York and Miami.

Wong addressing students at Oxford

Wong now appears less fidgety than at the height of the 2014 protests when he spent nearly three months camped on the streets outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters. He smiles frequently and no longer checks his smartphone every 15 seconds. What hasn’t changed is his signature bowl haircut and heavy-framed spectacles. His denim shirt and cargo pants are those of a typical Hong Kong teenager.

But Wong won’t be a teenager for much longer. He turns 20 in a few weeks and will lose his status as a student leader when he graduates from university in 2018. And if he doesn’t manage his career carefully, the comparison may shift from Malala Yousafzai to Macaulay Culkin or other failed child stars.

Wong knows that time is his biggest enemy. That’s why he filed a judicial review prior to the general election to overturn the minimum age requirement for election candidates – a fight he ultimately lost. The next election is four years away.

In the meantime, his prospects remain murky.

Wong currently attends Open University, which ranks last among the nine universities in Hong Kong. While he does well in his political science classes, his grade point average has been pulled down by non-core subjects with which he struggles, such as statistics.

A lackluster transcript aside, Wong’s main career hurdle is perhaps his name. Being a high profile political activist who was recently convicted for his role in starting the Umbrella Movement means that  in the long term  a career in politics may be his only option.

Jobs in both the public and private sectors are out of reach. No bank, telecom company or property developer – by far the largest employers in the city – would want to associate its name with a thorn in Beijing’s side.  

University ranking 2016

Still, friends like Matthew Torne, the British director who shadowed Wong for months while filming a documentary that chronicles Wong’s campaign against the patriotic curriculum, have urged the teenager to think long and hard about whether a career in politics is the right move.

“I’ve told Josh on more than one occasion that he needs a backup plan, such as a solid education from a reputable university overseas,” Torne said. “Josh is smart enough to know that voters are fickle and that he needs to think beyond politics.”

Wong appears to be listening to his friends counsel.

“I want to wipe the slate clean with a master’s degree aboard,” Wong mused. His ever-growing rolodex, which boasts professors at top postgraduate programs around the world, will come in handy when he is ready to take a hiatus from public life.

“I haven’t made up my mind about what I’ll do after spending a year or two overseas,” he confessed. “Outside politics, I suppose I can work for an NGO or do some freelance writing. I may even consider academia.”

For now, the protest leader gets by on a modest monthly allowance from his parents, with whom he and his brother share an apartment in a middle class neighborhood. 

When he doesn’t eat at home, his meals are paid for by politicians and reporters. Foreign trips are funded by institutions that invite him to speak.

“My biggest expense is cab fare,” the teenage activist said almost apologetically. “I’m always running from one place to the next, and I don’t have time to take the bus or the subway.” In Hong Kong, taking taxis instead of mass transit is considered a luxury for students.

“Other than that, I’m a pretty low maintenance guy.”

Director Torne (right) and Wong


An shorter version of this article was published in the 28 September edition of the Guardian.

As the article appeared on theGuardian.com

06 September 2016

Generation Shift 換代

For months, fierce political campaigns, vicious personal attacks and sporadic allegations of electoral irregularities had filled the airwaves and fuelled social media discourse in Hong Kong. One candidate was forced to drop out and flee to the U.K. after receiving threats of physical harm.

That is because the stakes had never been higher.

The Honorable Nathan Law (middle)

On Sunday, in the first election in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Movement was spawned in 2014, more than two million citizens – nearly 60% of all registered voters – went to the polls. 40 seats on the Legislative Council, or Legco, the region’s parliament, were up for grabs by candidates representing a wide spectrum of political parties. They ranged from diehard Beijing loyalists to pro-democracy veterans and younger, more radical newcomers calling for autonomy and even independence from China...

Read the rest of this article on TheGuardian.com.

As the article appeared in the 6 September 
2016 print edition of The Guardian

01 September 2016

Legco Election Special: Part 5 - New Territories West

I conclude my Legislative Council (Legco) election series with New Territories West, where three distinguished gentlemen in that district will tell you who they are and what they stand for.

My top picks in New Territories West are Neighborhood and Worker’s Service Centre’s Ivan Wong Yun-tat 黃潤達 (candidate #1), League of Social Democrats’ Raphael Wong Ho-ming 黃浩銘(candidate #11) and independent candidate Eddie Chu Hoi-dick 朱凱廸 (candidate #20).

Read Part 1 - Hong Kong Island, Part 2 - Kowloon EastPart 3 - Kowloon West and Part 4 - New Territories East.

Get out and vote!

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Question 1: Beyond rhetoric and slogans, what concrete action or achievements can you point to that distinguish you from other candidates?

Ivan: This is my 14th year working with Neighborhood and Worker’s Service Centre and my seventh year serving as a district councilman for Kwai Tsing. I’m not a political celebrity – I prefer to work behind-the-scenes for ordinary folks in my district, fighting for their rights and encouraging them to get involved in policy discussions.

In 2006, I launched a campaign to build shuttle elevators for the Kwai Chung Estate. We collected 2,000 signatures and mobilized 300 people to take part in a rally. In the end our efforts bore fruit and the elevators were built. I believe in taking real action.

I’m running for Legco not as a warrior but as a doer. If I’m elected, I’ll make sure that government resources are properly and fairly allocated to the cross-section of society. I’ll get more people to talk about important issues like universal retirement plans, standard working hours and civil liberties.

Raphael: The League of Social Democrats and People Power have been working side-by-side both within and without Legco. More so than any other pan-democratic parties, the two parties have succeeded in using filibusters to derail unpopular government initiatives, including the so-called “internet Article 23” [the Copyright (Amendment) Bill] and the Strategy Studies for Artificial Islands in the Central Waters [to determine the feasibility of constructing artificial islands off the Lantau coast].

In the meantime, my allies and I have been pressuring C.Y. Leung to deliver the promise he made in his 2015 Policy Address to set aside $50 billion for a universal pension scheme.

Eddie: I do a lot more than shouting slogans. For year, I’ve been heavily involved in city planning, rural development and environmental protection. I was one of leaders in the movements to save the Star Ferry Pier and the Queen’s Pier, to oppose the construction of a high-speed rail link, to promote outdoor markets, and to draw public attention to illegal waste dumping. When it comes to environmental and heritage conservation, I have ample experience in research, investigation, organization and direct intervention.

Unlike other candidates, I build my platform on a forward-looking agenda. I believe the future of Hong Kong requires several key ingredients: bottom-up city planning, social and environmental responsibility, a balance between urban and rural developments, and a sustainable agricultural industry.

Ivan has been a district councilman for
years fighting for the working class

Question 2: If you win, what issue(s) will you put at the top of your agenda and why?

Ivan: Our economy is dominated by oligarchs – big businesses such as Link and MTR Corp. have far too much market power and far too little oversight. Politically, the absence of real democracy allows our government and Beijing to ignore public opinion. These are the reasons why citizens work long hours, get paid a pittance and are left to fend for themselves after retirement.

If I’m elected, I’ll work with labor groups and community organizations on key livelihood issues. I’ll push to legislate standard working hours and implement a universal pension scheme without a means test.

Raphael: My primary focus will be on universal retirement protection and standard working hours legislation, both of which will strengthen our social welfare net and benefit millions of citizens.

I also support the enactment of a democratically-drafted constitution. Universal suffrage is merely a start – it’s through autonomy and self-determination under a new constitution that the people of Hong Kong will develop a distinct identity to stand up to the autocratic regime in China. That’s the future of our pro-democracy movement.

Eddie: First and foremost, I want to reform Heung Yee Kuk 鄉議局 [also known as the Rural Council, a powerful body representing the interest of indigenous people in the New Territories].

Rural development is a complex and emotional subject for many people. It affects not only the indigenous community but every Hong Konger, as it touches on much broader issues like city planning and housing policy. I believe the biggest obstacle to rural development is Heung Yee Kuk, a self-governing, self-perpetuating body that’s susceptible to nepotism and corruption. Some council members put themselves above the law, violating and condoning the violation of zoning laws, building codes and environmental regulations.

We need to inject transparency and accountability into Heung Yee Kuk by allowing New Territories villagers – many of whom are too scared to speak up – to democratically elect the council chairman and community leaders. Only then can residents take back their community currently controlled by powerful council seniors and members of the Triads. I’m not afraid to open that Pandora’s box. It holds the key to addressing the chronic land problem in Hong Kong.

Raphael believes a distinct Hong Kong identity
is key to countering China’s autocratic regime 

Question 3: Our legislative process is plagued with the stubborn existence of the functional seats and unfair rules such as the “separate vote count” mechanism. When the system is so heavily stacked against the opposition, what will you do differently and what are you prepared to do that your predecessors haven’t already tried?

Ivan: The pro-Beijing camp takes up all but a handful of the functional seats, which ensure that government-proposed bills will always get approved but that bills proposed by the opposition will always be defeated. That’s why students continue to suffer from the unpopular TSA [Territory-wide System Assessment, a series of mandatory aptitude tests in primary and secondary schools], fathers are denied a decent paternal leave, government officials responsible for the lead-tainted water incidents go unpunished, and C.Y. Leung gets away with taking a huge sum of money from UGL [an Australian engineering company]. I’m running for Legco because we need more pan-democratic lawmakers to hold the government accountable.

But being a lawmaker is much more than blocking bad government bills, because doing that alone won’t engender long-term political change. Only civic engagement will. Winning a Legco seat will give me a clear mandate to involve local communities in policymaking and empower them to partake in the political process.

Raphael: The many injustices in Legco, and in particularly the dominance by the undemocratically-elected functional constituencies, are what make procedural tactics like filibusters the only effective weapon against the government. As I mentioned earlier, the League of Social Democrats and People Power have been leading that charge for years. We’ll continue our efforts in the next Legco session, and we’ll be even more effective if other lawmakers are willing to get in on the action.

Battles on the legislative floor aside, we need large-scale political movements involving the general public to bring about fundamental change. I’m as committed to fighting the good fight in Legco as I’m doing that on the streets.

Eddie: At present, filibusters are our only defense against the government’s “white elephant” infrastructure projects. If I win the election, I’ll no doubt be part of that campaign.

As a lawmaker, I will also use every resource at my disposal to uncover, investigate and draw public attention to any wrongdoing or impropriety within the government. A Legco seat will give me the platform and political capital to get the public on side. That’s the key to building an effective opposition.

Eddie builds his platform on environmental
protection and taking on the powerful
Heung Yee Kuk

Question 4: What is your stance on independence? Do you either condemn or support the movement?

Ivan: The Chinese government promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under the one country, two systems framework. In recent years, however, Beijing has been increasingly meddlesome in our affairs. The most egregious example is the 8/31 framework [an announcement concerning the 2017 chief executive election issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on August 31st, 2014, that rejected, among other things, civil nomination], which dashed our hopes for genuine universal suffrage. More recently, a number of pro-independence candidates were banned from this Legco election. Hong Kong, it seems, is no longer ruled by law but by people. The emergence of the independence movement is merely a reflection of our collective frustration.

I don’t support independence, but I believe the public has the right to at least talk about it. I’m against any encroachment on our freedom of speech and freedom of thought. China needs to butt out and let us determine our own future.

Raphael: I’m a proponent of self-determination via, among other things, an amendment to the Basic Law to permit a referendum to decide our destiny. If the majority of civil society wishes to separate from mainland China, and that’s our choice and so be it.

At the same time, I’m also mindful of our political reality. Hong Kong doesn’t yet have what it takes to be an independent state. We’ll need to either wait for the one-party rule in China to end, or unite with the pro-democracy movement on the mainland for an all-out revolt – whichever happens first. Until then, it’s more realistic for us to focus on safeguarding our existing freedoms and securing more achievable wins.

Eddie: I support self-determination. We have the right to determine our future in a democratic manner, and independence is just one of the options we may consider. Sadly, many pan-democrats have been quick to denounce the independence movement before we’ve had the chance to properly debate the option.

Incidents like the 8/31 framework, the missing booksellers and the disqualification of certain pro-independence candidates from this election remind us that Beijing has no qualms about sidestepping the Basic Law. Self-determination allows us to think beyond the Basic Law and take back our future.

Question 5: If you had to choose the next chief executive from the pro-Beijing camp, whom would you pick and why?

Ivan: I wouldn’t support anyone chosen through a “small circle” election [at present, only members of an exclusive election committee have the right to select the chief executive]. As long as the electoral system remains unchanged, it’ll continue to produce a Beijing mouthpiece. The chief executive is only as good as the system that elects him or her.

Even though I’m against C.Y. Leung’s reelection, I don’t believe getting rid of him will solve any of our social and political problems. The only solution is genuine universal suffrage.

Raphael: After what the city went through in 2014, universal suffrage remains out of reach for the people of Hong Kong. Any chief executive handpicked by the election committee will answer only to Beijing or the property tycoons – or both. He or she will do what’s best for his masters and not what’s best for the rest of us. The only chief executive I’d support is one elected by the people to serve the people.

Eddie: I wouldn’t pick anyone from the pro-Beijing camp. Like the rest of Hong Kong, I oppose C.Y. Leung’s reelection. But whoever replaces him will still be chosen by a few insiders and serving those insiders’ interests. Hong Kongers must stand firm and say no to plutocracy.


Other top-of-the-ticket Legco candidates in the New Territories West geographical constituency include Andrew Wan Siu-kin, Ko Chi-fai, Chow Wing-kan, Cheng Chung-tai, Kwong Koon-wan, Michael Tien Puk-sun, Ho Kwan-yiu, Leung Che-cheung, Kwok Ka-ki, Lee Cheuk-yan, Wong Chun-kit, Alice Mak Mei-kuen, Frederick Fung Kin-kee, Chan Han-pan, Clarice Cheung Wai-ching, Hendrick Lui Chi-hang and Tong Wing-chi.


This article also appeared on Hong Kong Free Press.

As posted on Hong Kong Free Press