by New Bloom

English /// 中文
Translators: Brian HioePaoYi Huang
Photo credit: Joshua Wong

New Bloom editor Brian Hioe, along with friends and associates, interviewed Joshua Wong in New York, during a visit to the US by Wong in late April. Joshua Wong is most well known as a leading figure of the 2014 Umbrella Movement and for being the founder of Scholarism. Wong recently announced the formation of a new political party, Demosistō.


New Bloom:  So the first thing I want to ask, for people who don’t know the situation very well, could you explain your background? What would lead to you founding Scholarism? And how did you end up participating in the Umbrella Movement?

Joshua Wong:  It’s very easy to explain. I am 19 years old, in my second year of college studying politics and administration. When I began Scholarism, I was 14 years old, because at that time what we had in Hong Kong was like your movement to oppose textbook reforms in Taiwan. The curriculum in middle school and elementary school was going to be changed and we felt that this would oppress our sense of identification through attempts to instill patriotism for China and love for the Communist Party. We felt this wasn’t right. From 2011, when I started Scholarism to the Umbrella Movement. This was what we did in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, these four years. From 2015 onwards, we wanted to go in a new direction, to create a new political party.

A part of this was inspired by Taiwan’s Third Force and Spain’s Podemos, that we had the notion of starting a political party for elections in September 2016.

Forming a Political Party After the Umbrella Movement

NB:  So how did the development of the Umbrella Movement influence you to want to start a political party?

JW:  From the 1980s up until the present, Taiwanese people have been discussing the China factor from multiple perspectives including “One Country, Two Systems” and the 1992 Consensus. Yet for Hong Kong, there is only one limited option–”One Country, Two Systems.” Because of the history of British governance, Hong Kong has fifty years of “One Country, Two Systems” until 2047, but what we confront now is that we feel “One Country, Two Systems” already has ceased to exist. The democratic opposition supported a view of returning to past democracy. That is to say, Hong Kong sovereignty was to return to as it was under British rule.

PhotoCreditJoshuaWong.jpgPhoto credit: Joshua Wong

But from the 1980s up to 2014, from going beyond the Umbrella Movement, if there’s no way out from the system of One Country, Two Systems, the next route is the seek the right to democracy. That is the path we’re pursuing. This year, in February, I went to observe the elections in Taiwan. I wrote an essay saying that “One Country, Two Systems” has the same logic as “One China, Two Interpretations.” Since the PRC is under a dictatorship, why should we believe “One Country, Two Systems” or “One China, Two Systems”? After all, these are the official narratives aimed to manipulate people.

Hong Kong and China

NB:  How do you view the democracy movement in China?

JW:  After Xi Jinping came to power, the condition of human rights in China has deteriorated. Within the PRC, I think Hong Kong has the best chance to achieve democracy and freedom. Yet, I don’t know the politics in China too well, there are too many entanglements and too much secretive politics. It’s neither obsequious or supercilious, to say we shouldn’t look down on our ability to influence things because of the size Hong Kong is, but think of it in terms of geopolitical significance. 

Taiwan and Hong Kong

NB:  Can you talk about your views on Taiwan, then? As you mentioned, the successes of the New Power Party was one of the inspirations that you had in the formation of Demosistō and so forth.

JW:  Hong Kong and Taiwan are different for the fact that the strength of opposition parties in Taiwan is different. Taiwan’s DPP is becoming the ruling party, but our pan-Democratic forces are very dispersed, and everyone’s “commitment” to the movement is different. For example, the mayor of Kaohsiung, Chen Chu, was an important participant devoted to the Dangwai movement decades ago, and we do not have a figure like her in Hong Kong. So this is different.

Why I said the New Power Party was inspiring is because people who participated in social movements have discovered that social movements have their effectiveness, but hope to establish a more stable means to influence politics, and that would be forming a political party like the New Power Party. Moreover, the formation of the New Power Party was initiated in the aims of providing oversight over the opposition party.

Hong Kong is still in the process of democratization, so the result we hope for is to let political parties return to the roles they originally should have played in the process of democratization. For example, the DPP played a leading role in the democracy movement in the 1980s and 1990s. But in Hong Kong, the pan-democratic forces feel that the democratization movement can be left to activism and civil groups that are outside of the political system, and they should focus on the electoral system. Yet in the process of democratization or before establishing a real democracy, political parties have more resources, which should be used for advocating for democratization. So we feel, if Hong Kong’s political parties don’t have an awareness that what we’re pursuing is to serve the democracy movement, we feel this isn’t a healthy situation. We hope to assume this position in the democracy movement, as a political party which pushes the movement, and not just a political party that supports the democracy movement.

For example, during the Umbrella Movement, a lot of politicians or political parties were moved by events, but they wouldn’t act to support the movement from within, or would criticize from the sidelines. So we hope to become a political party, first, to push the democracy movement and put democratic rights as the most important political agenda. Second, we hope to become a political party which can organize the democracy movement.

NB:  Then, next, can you discuss the differences between Taiwan and Hong Kong? Because the most obvious factor is China. For Hong Kong, China is right there, but Taiwan still has some distance. Many organizations appeared after the Sunflower Movement, but we don’t have to be wary of the China factor so much. Because it’s farther. But in Hong Kong you have begun to see people “disappearing.”

JW:  Everyone thinks that the China factor is important. In Taiwan, there are distinctions between independence and unification, or right and left, which differentiated the Social Democratic Party from the New Power Party. The differentiation came with the question of whether to be independent first then shift leftwards, or whether to discuss politics first and then economics. It’s a question of priority. I think what Hong Kong needs is a party which will address the question of sovereignty. The situation in Hong Kong now is that members of the pan-Democrats won’t discuss the problem of sovereignty, and within the localists, some groups which will say that we need to be independent and build a nation/state, as though with the sentiment of advocating armed revolution. We feel what is important is that if you don’t go through democratic means, with a referendum to confirm democratic consensus, this is not a process which can establish democracy.


NB:  How would you respond to criticisms of Demosistō from the localists, then? There are some criticisms which have after the formation of Demosistō because of disagreement in methods, yet many localists groups also intend to run in elections. Is it a difference of not only methods of protest, but also the vision of Hong Kong you aim for? For example, you have written on your website, that you intend to use nonviolent means of protest and aim towards a pluralistic society.

JW:  Yes. The biggest difference is in two respects, the first is in regards to protest, the second is their view that the movement should not draw lines in ruling out certain forms of action. Where we hope to have an underlying bottom line for our actions. We can put it this way, non-violence is not the issue. But many people in the past have not done well using non-violent means, including us and many other groups, so it feels as though the notion of adhering to non-violence has withered up.

Frankly speaking, in regards to what happened in Mong Kok during the New Year’s, that situation was different from not having a bottom line. Because even after the police fired, Hong Kong people did not respond with equal force.

We believe that if we aren’t willing to do something, we won’t tell other people to do the same. Again, we have a bottom line for our activities, of course they had their different views from us during the occupation. If they have different views, I respect them, they have some people who are willing to make sacrifices after stating their principles. But frankly speaking, a lot is just trash talk.

For example, what is very visible is I see Edward Leung and other localist groups have a different sense of commitment. The first is regarding the economy, for example, we push for social welfare for all people. Or that there’s the right to build housing if you are indigenous to Hong Kong (A policy dating from the British colonial period is that residents of the New Territories are divided into ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Non-Indigenous’, the former has the hereditary right, according to certain conditions, to build housing), we push to abolish this and localists currently are against repealing this—but this is an aspect of social inequality and male privilege. This is a more right-leaning, conservative view.

NB:  So you would say it’s a difference between right and left?

JW:  Part of it is right and left, the other is in regard to means of protest.

Left and Right, Social Inequality, Labor

NB:  Okay, so in regards to left and right, looking at Demosisto’s website, from my perception, you would be a center-Left party.

JW:  Yes, center-Left.

NB:  In that regard, how would you understand social inequality in Hong Kong? Like unequal income, expensive real estate, etc. Yet immigration from China is controversial, in that this is also seen as a factor of social inequality. What would you view as the source of social inequality?

JW:  From two aspects. For example, people from China who want to immigrate and apply for a one way permit from China to Hong Kong, this is not handled by the Hong Kong government, but by the Chinese government. Clearly, this is a form of inequality. Why isn’t us who decide this?

In terms of infrastructure development, Hong Kong also faces the top-down force from the Chinese government. Beijing wants to connect Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, therefore a lot of infrastructure development is designed to fit into this plan. Hong Kong is in a passive position and forced to develop in the way Beijing wants us to go. This is looking at the macro level. A smaller scale angle is looking at issues of labor, sexuality, the socially oppressed, etc. But these two viewpoints are both needed.

12970879_497665163775644_2451590937708338646_oPhoto credit: Demosistō

In the introduction booklet of Demosistō, we mention that Hong Kong’s self-determination is not limited to the political aspect, but economic aspect as well, in order to have equal rights and opportunities. The second is self-initiation, which means beginning from Hong Kong standards. We oppose Beijing-led immigration, integration, and development policies.

NB:  Can we ask about the labor situation in Hong Kong? What I wanted is that there’s a trade union in Hong Kong called the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions? With over 390,000 members, it’s a very large labor union. But they are directly controlled by the CCP. From Occupy Central, we saw that many workers support Occupy Central, but why is it that such a large labor union supports Beijing’s policy and oppresses Hong Kong workers?

JW:  The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions has resources and money. Participants are entitled for many services including inexpensive English and computer lessons. Therefore, many people joined this organization not because of their political views but for the benefits. The democracy movement doesn’t have resources. In fact, some pan-Democratic families join this union because of the benefits.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the International

NB:  For Hong Kong and Taiwan, do you think it is important to seek for international supports?

JW:  Very important. Because Hong Kong’s self-determination is a question of international politics. Originally Hong Kong was a British colony and recognized as a colony by the United Nations. After China joined the UN, the Chinese government requested that Hong Kong shouldn’t be categorized as a colony, and the UN agreed. As a result, Hong Kong, in reality, was still a colony, but we lose the right of self-determination.

It is an international political issue whether Hong Kong’s future will be determined by its own people or by the CCP. Under the international law, we are entitled for the right of self-determination. Secondly, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed by the Chinese and British governments and also supported by the US. These so-called democratic countries supported the return of Hong Kong to China in democratic terms. But until now—I’m nineteen, Hong Kong has been returned to China for nineteen years—Hong Kong still doesn’t have democracy. It’s a lie. The Sino-British Joint Declaration prevents us to announce self-determination tomorrow, and there is no way to change the time period listed in the Declaration. But we can maneuver with the issues that were not mentioned in the Declaration. In the period of 1997 to 2047, we hope to gain supports from international society to promote Hong Kong’s self-determination.

NB:  Do you think Taiwan should do the same thing?

JW:  Though it’s unclear whether Taiwan is on the road of becoming a sovereign state, the fact that Taiwan is not governed by the PRC indicates that there are certain international supports and also the US factor. Of course Hong Kong cannot duplicate Taiwan’s developmental route, but Taiwan still serves as a good reference. Taiwan occupies a certain position in international polity not only because of its army or because it has 23 millions of people. Another obvious reason is the geographic factor. The Taiwan Strait separates Taiwan from China, but there is only a river between Hong Kong and China. But what important is that Taiwan has the ability to achieve a certain position in international society, and that is what we need the power to accomplish by 2047.

NB:  What do you plan to do in regards to making connections to outside Hong Kong?

JW:  Frankly speaking, activism in Hong Kong has been mostly internal social movements, and we rarely tried to connect with international society or with Taiwan and Macau. This was because social movements in the past were mostly concerned about labor rights, and people did not feel the need to establish international connections. Another reason was that people were afraid that seeking international helps would bring more pressure from the CCP.

I think the first step is to go to different places in the world to speak and build up networks. We hope to establish a culture-oriented, international lobby group in the future. This group won’t simply ask, “Do you support Hong Kong’s self-determination?” Instead, we hope to form a group of 5 to 10 members that is supported by half of or a million Hong Kong people, and these members will travel around the world to promote our ideas to different government officials, parliaments, and representatives of civil society. Little by little, Hong Kong’s self-determination movement will be known in international society. An individual like me came to speak in the US, but this still didn’t mean much because my speech was only my personal opinions as I did not represent anyone else. So, our first step is to build various networks in different parts of the world, and then form a group representing Hong Kong people.

Given that the Sino-British Joint Declaration had the endorsement from the international community, we can draft a resolution on Hong Kong’s future, similar to DPP’s Resolution on Taiwan’s Future, and we can use this document to see supports from other governments and large human right NGOs. I think the difference between the localists and us is that though we don’t have a problem with the word “local,” we think it’s impossible to use force to resolve the problem. It’s not a question of being radical, but a question of macro international politics. How do you have enough strength to negotiate with Beijing? How do you gain the support from different people across the world? These are long-term problems.

13051670_1025794574179717_8654176949478956571_nPhoto credit: Joshua Wong

A lot of people ask why we aim for self-determination in ten years, why not in two years? I think that if Hong Kong would be independent in two years, we would still be eating vegetables from Beijing and drinking water from China, and still haven’t sorted out a program for how to establish people’s livelihood in a self-sufficient manner. The conditions for independence aren’t there yet. But they feel, as long as we have a forceful movement, then two years later, Hong Kong will be different. Of course, it’s not so easy. Self-determination is a long-term movement. Taiwan isn’t completely independent either.

NB:  Why did you come to America this time?

JW:  Actually, I got invited by colleges in last November or December. I came here in the hope of raising people’s awareness and gaining supports for Hong Kong people’s right to self-determination.

NB:  In the press conference earlier, you mentioned that some people criticized you of leaning towards America. How would you respond to this?

JW:  Pro-CCP organizations also go to San Francisco and Los Angeles to meet with different government officials, so I don’t see the problem of going to different parts of the world. Harvard University invited me, who would say no to this kind of invitation? I will also go to Stanford to give a talk. The daughter of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive is studying there. It doesn’t make any sense to criticize me leaning towards foreign power just because I give a talk and not criticize the Chief Executive’s daughter.

Hong Kong Self-Determination

NB:  The last thing I want to ask is, pertaining to much of what we have discussed, is what would you define Hong Kong self-determination? Like we discussed Taiwanese independence before, that’s been spoken of for many years, but from my own view, it seems like it’s after the Umbrella Movement that there’s discussion of Hong Kong independence? What does Hong Kong self-determination mean?

JW:  Hong Kong’s self-determination is for the people of Hong Kong to vote on after 2047, fifty years after handover, whether Hong Kong should be under “One Country, Two Systems,” “One Country, One System,” or be independent.

NB:  We’ve discussed international politics a lot. How do you see the development of political movements in Hong Kong?

JW:  It’s still in an initial stage. Frankly speaking, among 70 legislators in the Legislative Council, there are only two or three legislators supporting self-determination. We hope to push self-determination to become the largest factor on the democracy movement and then this can lead the mainstreamization of the democracy movement, as something not only discussed by a small group of people. Because self-determination is something that, regardless of whether you identify yourself as Chinese or Hong Konger, like or hate the CCP, is a part of the normal democratic process. We hope that Hong Kong people vote to decide our own future and not the CCP.

Last Words

NB:  What would you like to say to Taiwanese and international readers in conclusion?

JW:  To Taiwanese readers, I’d like to say that there are a lot of things to discuss between us, because we are under the force of the China factor and share similar cultures and the pan-Chinese ethnic background. For us, Taiwan’s democratic movement and process of democratization is something we need to learn from. Hong Kong’s democracy movement was earlier than yours, from the 1980s, we already were in the process of democratization, but eventually Taiwan proceeded faster. I think this is what we need to consider: what is the price we are willing to pay for democracy?

As for international society, what I want to say is that from the Umbrella Movement, we hope that people could see that Hong Kong is not just a global financial center, it is a diverse society. In this seemingly well-developed place, there are people willing to pay the price for democratic freedoms and improving the society. For the future, we hope to attract the support of international society, because this is a very long path.

To Hong Kong people, I’d like to say that self-determination is a very complicated and long-term issue. It shouldn’t be thought of as something that can be achieved in two years with the realization of constitutional referendum then independence. Because Hong Kong doesn’t have the conditions for this right now. How to prepare in the next ten years, twenty years, or thirty years, that is important.

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