Experts: Stand Up for Human Rights in Hong Kong

October 10, 2014

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call yesterday on the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Ellen Bork, FPI’s Director of Democracy and Human Rights, and David Feith, an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia, gave their on-the-ground perspective on recent events in the territory.

In addition to the full audio of the event, FPI believes the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the rapidly evolving situation in Hong Kong.


Why Are There Protests?

“Is there a single set of objectives?  The short answer is yes, in the sense that the democrats are demanding that Beijing withdraw its decision on August 31st giving Hong Kong only Iran-style democracy…  It’s clear that the pan-democratic camp, including several student organizations and 27 legislators in the local legislature, completely reject the final decision that Beijing says it has come to, and they are demanding that Beijing reverse it.” David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“The protests we’ve seen in recent weeks are in an immediate sense a response to an August 31st decision that came from the Chinese central government in Beijing. That decision was the result of a very long process [that] picked up in recent years… as the preparation period for the 2017 selection process for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong approached. It became clearer and clearer that Beijing was looking to weasel out of its promises to deliver democracy to Hong Kong.” – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“Hong Kong is unusual in that it’s trying to protect itself more than it’s trying to change or achieve new things. Obviously direct elections of a chief executive would be a huge step forward, but it’s all in the context of preserving something Hong Kong has, which is the rule of law and civil liberties.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

Who is Leading the Protests?

“The two main student groups are the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which are essentially a union of university and college students. That is the organization that is set to negotiate with the government. There is also the organization called ‘Scholarism’ run by the 17-year old Joshua Wong. Those two student organizations, for now and historically, have had very good and cooperative relationships.” – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“The size of the democratic camp has in many ways exceeded expectations. Occupy Central said all along that even as they attracted 800,000 people in June to their civil referendum, they never expected that more than 10,000 people would exercise civil disobedience downtown and risk arrest… In the past two weeks, tens of thousands at a minimum, and as many as 200,000 have actually taken to the streets, risking arrest and violence by police." – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“I consider the protests transformative in the democracy movement because of the role of the students, who have at least initially eclipsed the establishment pro-democracy politicians… They are not trying to fit into the authoritarian country’s vision for them; they are trying to chart their own. That’s at the heart of this stalemate the beginning of talks – the government won’t contemplate talking about anything that’s not prescribed by Beijing, and the students don’t want to talk about anything that is.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

What’s Next?

“Unfortunately one is inclined to speculate and assume that the response from Beijing will be not conciliatory; more aggressive, more squeeze, more limitations on Hong Kong autonomy in all the ways we've seen in the past ten and twenty years… [Chinese President Xi Jinping] has been tightening control, centralizing control, cracking down when it comes to matters of political freedom across the board.” – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“There was a great feeling of defiance after the tear gas. People [were] coming out in greater numbers. People I spoke to said they were coming out for the students… I don’t think the era of street protests is over at all.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

“A new scandal has been linked to the very unpopular chief executive of Hong Kong, [C.Y. Leung]… [Leung] received, after becoming chief executive, payments of millions of dollars from an Australian company with whom he had done business before becoming the Chief Executive… It’s believed by many people in town that this might be the beginning of a process by Beijing to essentially make a case for pushing him out of office…  One point of interest is that Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency published an article about this latest private wealth revelation.” – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

Is News of the Protests Reaching Mainland China?

“It’s too soon to say what’s really getting through. It’s safe to say that enough is getting through that some brave souls are taking steps on the mainland that are getting them arrested. I’ve seen people with banners. I’ve read stories about people posting messages of support online, and the alacrity with which the Chinese authorities go after these folks is impressive and disturbing. It suggests to me that some of the news is getting through.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

“Chinese internet censors have been twice as busy zapping social media posts about Hong Kong as they were in June zapping social media posts about the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre." – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

“The most geostrategically significant immediate effect is concerning Taiwan, which is that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model was invented in the early 1980s, explicitly laid out by Deng Xiaoping, to relate [China] to Taiwan for the eventual, as the Chinese government says, reunification of Taiwan with the motherland and the Taiwanese watch Hong Kong very closely and with increasing horror.” – David Feith, editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong

How Should the United States Respond?

“The U.S. Hong Kong Policy Act, which was passed in 1992, is mainly a monitoring act – the State Department is supposed to report. The thrust of the Policy Act is that Hong Kong should remain autonomous, and therefore in that way the United States can maintain a separate relationship with Hong Kong… It would be interesting to see if members of Congress try to impose consequences on Beijing for this [erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy] and really ratchet up support for democracy in Hong Kong.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

“Here among my contacts, there is, I wouldn’t say exactly surprise, but great disappointment at the U.S. response so far. They don’t see American support for their struggle… as interference, and I don’t think we should either." – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

“We need to break down that feeling that Hong Kong is a separate matter.  It is very much related to the future of China…  The way the United States responds to Hong Kong at this time does send a message to China and our allies...  I think that years from now, how the United States responds might be something that our allies remember and judge their relationship with us by.” – Ellen Bork, Director of Democracy and Human Rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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