27 February 2020
Pro-independence activist Billy Chiu (center) was given a two-week jail term, suspended for one year, for breaking into the People's Liberation Army barracks in Admiralty last year. Photo: HKEJ
Pro-independence activist Billy Chiu (center) was given a two-week jail term, suspended for one year, for breaking into the People's Liberation Army barracks in Admiralty last year. Photo: HKEJ

Young leaders taking over opposition mantle

Amid the growing clamor for political reform in Hong Kong, authorities are casting a wary eye on the youth leaders in the opposition camp, who appear to be more militant than their senior allies.

In both attitude and action, the youth have displayed a high degree of daring and tenacity that can change the complexion of protests in the city.

Young activists have been playing a key role in street actions of recent years, from opposing the demolition of Queen’s Pier in Central and the construction of the Express Rail Link to protests against the screening mechanism for the candidates to the 2017 Chief Executive election and the development plans for the northeast New Territories. They are manning the frontlines of mass campaigns; the old politicians are slowly falling behind.

Which is not surprising. According to a survey by the Public Opinion Program of University of Hong Kong in December, 65 percent of the respondents in the 18-29 age bracket said they distrusted the central government; only 17 percent said they trusted Beijing. Also, 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Hong Kong people, while only 7 percent considered themselves as Chinese.

Clearly, Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have been unable to win the hearts and minds of the young people of Hong Kong.

The government’s attitude toward the young activists has been predictable, disparaging them for being unreasonable in their demands and warning them that they may be playing into the hands of outside forces.

During a dialogue on the issue of public nomination of candidates for the 2017 election on Thursday night, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam rejected a pointed question from student leader Joshua Wong of the student group Scholarism.

“You guys are very violent,” Lam was reported to have said, voicing her dismay over the violent clash between police and a group of young radicals who tried to storm the Legislative Council building on June 13. The protest was against the government’s development plans for the northeast New Territories.

A day before protesters were set to march again on Legco on Friday, police arrested two youngsters in connection with last week’s rowdy demonstration.

One was a 15-year-old boy who allegedly posted on a social media platform several suggestions on how to storm the Legco building. It included tips on how to break windows and avoid injuries. A police source said the boy was a former member of radical group Civic Passion and had taken part in various protests, including the June 13 rally.

The other was Ivan Lam, 19, a former Scholarism member who was arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly. He was released on bail.

Meanwhile, Billy Chiu, 28, one of a handful of pro-democracy activists who broke into the People’s Liberation Army barracks in Admiralty on Boxing Day last year was given a two-week jail term, which was suspended for one year.

For their growing militancy, the young activists are becoming a major headache of the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and, by extension, the central authorities.

They have a reason to worry. The biggest threat to the Communist Party in recent history was the pro-democracy movement of 1989, which triggered a bloody military crackdown on the student protesters. 

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EJ Insight writer