22 August 2019
Joshua Wong (middle), 17, founder of student activist group Scholarism, has been spearheading the protests. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Image
Joshua Wong (middle), 17, founder of student activist group Scholarism, has been spearheading the protests. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Image

How young democrats are showing guts and reason

This Wednesday is the 11th day of the Occupy Central movement or “Umbrella Movement”.

It is evident that in Hong Kong’s pursuit of genuine universal suffrage and full democracy, young students have come to the fore to lead the campaign. By contrast, Occupy organizers as well as pan-democratic lawmakers are fading into history.

It’s safe to say that the common aspirations of Hong Kong’s young people for civil nomination in the selection of chief executive candidates have caught the CY Leung administration off guard. Officials have been expecting their enthusiasm to fizzle out. How wrong they were.

Leung thought that his heavy-handed approach early on — such as deploying anti-riot squads and firing tear gas — could deter the student protesters. This was after white terror was unleashed by the early arrest and lengthy detention of key student leaders before the sit-in began.

But the scare tactic backfired, with more citizens being galvanized to participate in the protest after the brutal police action on the unarmed and peaceful demonstrators was splashed across the international media.

The truth is that the students are unfazed in the face of crackdowns.

Since the 1997 handover, numerous marches and public processions have earned Hong Kong a reputation as the capital of protests. These students, who have been polite and well organized since the first day of the demonstration, have drawn solidarity from people around the world.

The only place that is unmoved is mainland China, where the government-run media and propaganda organizations have labeled the protests unlawful, in stark contrast to the sympathetic international media coverage.

Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told his fellow protesters that they have taken a big step forward but a lot more has to be done before final victory is in sight.

I deeply admire these young people and I also appreciate the support from their elders who choose to stay low-key and let the young democrats take the stage. Nonetheless, when it comes to the question whether we can ultimately win, I am still in grave doubt.

It remains unclear whether talks between the students and the government can bring any concrete results to resolve the crisis. Meanwhile, repeated appeals from former government officials, university presidents and other well-known figures for an end to the protest are raising some eyebrows.

I am particularly disappointed with some of our dignitaries and religious leaders. Many of them, who should have helped dissuade the government from using force, showed superficial concern for the students by asking them to withdraw immediately to avoid bloodshed.

These people asked the students to surrender before the government could even show the slightest sign that it was willing to compromise.

The right thing to do was to lobby the government. Only when there was a chance of a good response from the government should they tell the students to leave.

For instance, when Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong and a predominant figure in the democratic campaign, told the students to leave, it appeared to me that his words were nothing but a disclaimer: if you get hurt or find yourselves in danger, it has nothing to do with me.

By the same token, I have some serious doubts about the motive of former chief justice Andrew Li.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa joined the appeal last Sunday but I sincerely hope he could also spare some time to convey public views and social sentiments to Beijing like he did when he relayed the message from the central authorities after leading a group of Hong Kong tycoons to the capital last month.

In this sense, I must pay respect to Joseph Wong, former secretary for the civil service; Joseph Ha, auxiliary bishop; Edward Chan, former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, as well as a number of university professors and lecturers for their joint petition to get the government to begin talks as soon as possible and ensure the safety of the students.

Scholarism founder Joshua Wong warned that pepper spray and tear gas are just a prelude to more severe means to suppress the protesters. He urged high school students to leave first.

The purpose of the protests is not to create martyrs. A mass protest can only last a dozen days and it’s unrealistic to achieve all the goals in one go.

What’s the point of sacrifice if the protesters are injured and hospitalized before civil nomination is realized? Wong’s remarks show that on top of their dedication and enthusiasm, the protesters are rational and realistic.

When scuffles broke out last weekend in Mong Kok in which several students were shoved and punched, one young student spoke in front of a TV camera: we will be playing into their hands if we surrender to our fear and give up.

In him, I see a new generation of Hongkongers who are well educated, more civil and more courageous and committed.

The movement is inevitably causing inconvenience and losses to residents and shops, but taking to the streets to voice our discontent is perhaps the only bargaining chip we have in our pursuit of genuine universal suffrage.

It remains a daunting task to press ahead with the campaign while minimizing disturbance to society and avoiding provocation and further clashes. For the time being, talks without further ado are the only solution.

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This commentary appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s Oct. 7 issue. Translation by Frank Chen. 

Hong Kong’s new generation of young democrats: from left, HKFS deputy secretary general Lester Shum and secretary general Alex Chow, Scholarism spokesperson Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong. Photo: Getty Images

Joshua Wong speaks to student protesters in Admiralty. Photo: Business Insider

A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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