The voice of Hong Kong youth
Jun. 26, 2017
The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China is coming up next month. But the growing influence of Beijing divides the local opinion and the youth see it as threat to the freedom of Hong Kong.
Since 1997, Hong Kong has been ruled under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems." A part of the agreement said that for at least 50 years, the mainland would leave the economic and political systems as they were.
But in recent years, there's been increasing interference from Beijing. Locals began to feel a threat to their freedom.
This led to a mass rally called "The Umbrella Movement." Thousands of citizens occupied central Hong Kong for weeks. They demanded a democratic election to choose their leaders.
Joshua Wong, then 17 years old, was one of the leaders of the movement and landed in the international spotlight.
Today, Wong is an active member of a political party pursuing democracy for Hong Kong. This month, he visited the University of Tokyo.
Newsroom Tokyo anchor Aiko Doden spoke with him.
Doden: Joshua, you are part of the post-handover generation. But what made you want to stand up and raise your voice for Hong Kong?
Wong: China promised after Hong Kong handover to China, it of course is under one country, China. But we have 2 systems separately for Hong Kong and mainland China. For example, Hong Kong we deserve free flow of information, we also have approximation of autonomy, while there’s a great firewall in mainland China -- people can’t access to Facebook, Google, or YouTube.
But what we recognize is "One Country, Two Systems" just turned into "One Country, One-and-a-half Systems" because all the promise China made 2 decades ago, it just results in nothing. And instead of having an election by people to choose the leader of our city, now the leader of our city is just selected by the Communist regime.
That's why I recognize if we need to determine the destiny of our generation, we should not keep silence. That’s why I start to involve in politics a few years ago.
Doden: But at the time of the Umbrella movement, some people in Hong Kong were rather calm, saying 'Why bring disruption, you know, while Hong Kong is a hen that lays the golden egg?' How would you react to that?
Wong: My response is, all we ask for, is just get the rights to vote in an election and in hope of the action we definitely rely on the principle of peace and nonviolence.
So when Hong Kong turned to be "One Country, One System" and just positioned as a normal city under the rule of China, so Hong Kong will lose all of its uniqueness.
Also with strong erosion of those universal values and that's the worst case and worst scenario of Hong Kong.
Doden: Perhaps not only Hong Kong but worldwide, it does seem that the democracy is faced with a challenge -- with rising populism. What is your reaction to that?
Wong: After the end the Umbrella Movement, we get international community support and also new generation political awareness but the system remained unchanged. People feel downhearted and depressed and there is a certain degree of fragmentation inside the pro-democracy camp. That’s why we founded political party last year named as “Demosistō” and let people to know that if we feel tired and depressed it is fine, but we still need to continue for our battle.
Doden:In 2047, when the "One Country, Two Systems" framework reaches its 50 years limit, what would you be doing then, do you think?
Wong: I’m not sure. And I hope it’s still the place that allows me to live and it’s still the place that can let me contribute to development of this city. And I think no matter people recognize me as a politician or activist or not, I just hope to act actively as a citizen.
Doden: I might sound like an old auntie but I hope you won’t be missing out on the fun of a student or a young man for democracy. I hope that is not happening to you or is it?
Wong: I expect to pay the price and it’s hard for you to get private life in Hong Kong when you would be recognized on the street, no matter they blame on you or just ask to take selfie with you. That is my daily life, but I think it is liable and it is worth, it’s really worth. I still have private life, that’s why I’m waiting for July, mid of July to buy the Play Station 4 and to play the new game: Gundam vs. Gundam. And yeah, that’s why I will visit to Akihabara.
Newsroom Tokyo anchors Aiko Doden and Aki Shibuya are joined by Rikkyo University Professor Toru Kurata in the studio. He specializes in Hong Kong politics.
Shibuya: Joshua Wong belongs to the post-handover generation. How do you see the rise of political activism among Hong Kong's youth? Is this a generational movement?
Kurata: Yes. The latest survey released about 2 weeks ago clearly shows such tendencies. Regarding the question of whether you think of yourself as a Chinese or a Hongkonger, 65% of respondents from 18 to 29 said they are Hongkongers and only 3% had said they are Chinese -- this is the lowest number since this survey started in 1997.
As Joshua said in the interview, many people say that there is an ongoing erosion of “One Country, Two Systems” principle. At the same time, there is also an economical factor in the drift of public sentiment. As more people and money from mainland China flows into Hong Kong, they are also causing friction, such as the rise of real estate pricing and competition in the job market. These changes hit the daily lives of ordinary Hong Kong people.
Another survey that was released earlier this month asking about the state of Hong Kong society since the handover, 62.9% of the respondents indicated that it has worsened.
Doden: What does this all mean from Beijing's perspective?
Kurata: Before the handover, it was said that Hongkongers were not interested in politics, they were interested in only making money, and Beijing wanted them to stay that way. But instead, Hong Kong has now become a politically sensitive area.
As a pro-independent government emerges in Taiwan, Beijing now worries about the collusion of Taiwan and Hong Kong’s independence movement. One Hong Kong scholar has described the Chinese government’s attitude toward Hong Kong as “They need Hong Kong, but not its people.” That is, China needs Hong Kong’s function as an international financial center, but it is better if the territory is operated by politically obedient Mainlanders.
Doden: How do you see the situation evolve in the years to come?
Kurata: President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Hong Kong for the first time since he took office soon, and Joshua Wong and others are calling for a rally of protest. Considering Xi's attitude toward dissidents in the mainland, it is unlikely that he will compromise to the demand from protesters over the Chinese government's policy. So Xi's visit may deepen the gap that already exists between Hong Kong and Beijing, and it is very unlikely this will change in the near future.