'We shall not be moved'

'We shall not be moved'

Two student leaders campaigning for democracy in HK believe they will succeed - as long as they don't compromise

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Alex Chow (left) and Joshua Wong have become well-known figures in Hong Kong because of their pro-democracy campaign.
Alex Chow (left) and Joshua Wong have become well-known figures in Hong Kong because of their pro-democracy campaign.
Photo: Dickson Lee

Some of Hong Kong's student activists demanding political reform have become local celebrities, thanks to their confrontations with officials being shown on television.

Fresh faced and wearing black-rimmed glasses, student leader Joshua Wong Yong-kang has become one of the most widely recognised faces of the pro-democracy movement.

Wong, 17, is co-founder of the student activist group, Scholarism. He has found his love life debated in gossip columns in the city, while his stage presence during radio and television debates and discussions has won him a loyal following with Hongkongers of all ages.

The concerns and frustrations of Wong and other activists over the city's democracy movement are growing. People are very worried that there will be too much compromise with officials in Beijing in future. Public discontent in Hong Kong is now at its highest for years. There is great concern about what many people see as interference from the mainland.

Beijing has insisted it must approve candidates for the city's chief executive election in 2017.

However, the pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, has pledged to bring the central business district to a halt if public nomination of candidates is ruled out by the authorities.

'No compromise' say students

Student campaign groups say they believe civil disobedience is the only way to secure change - and that it should happen sooner, rather than later.

"You have to gather citizens and really make civil disobedience a practice - not just repeatedly say it," says Alex Chow Yong-kang, 23, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

"If you do not carry out any action, your opponents will not see how seriously Hong Kong people are treating democracy."

He says students will not compromise on their demand for the public to pick candidates. This sets them apart from other pro-democracy groups, Chow believes.

He says: "Once you make a compromise, you have to keep compromising in the future."

Beijing has promised universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017, but there is deep concern that only candidates who support Beijing will be allowed to stand.

Wong says: "We have been protesting every year on July 1, but the government is not going to feel the heat if everyone goes home after the protest; we need escalated actions."

He is impatient for action. "We don't think we can persuade the government with our words," he says. "Only when there is action that leads to unrest in society will the government consider compromising."

Increase in disobedience

Student groups have already raised the level of civil disobedience. After this year's July 1 pro-democracy march, they organised a sit-in that resulted in police arresting more than 500 protesters.

Ma Ngok, a political analyst at Chinese University, believes it is the students' lack of allegiance to mainstream politics that is part of the secret to their popularity.

"People believe they are not running for office and are genuinely fighting for the interest of Hong Kong," Ma says.

The leaders of Occupy - headed by two academics and a baptist minister - also say that the students are key, despite their criticism of the movement.

"We need people like these students to do something more radical and express their ideas directly," says Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man.

However, Chan believes people who are also willing to negotiate are equally important.

The city's democracy camp says it would like to meet Beijing officials to discuss electoral reform.

However, Michael DeGolyer, a professor at Baptist University's government and international studies department, says student protesters risk retaliation if they remain unwilling to budge.

Fears over refusal to negotiate

"If the students ... insist that it is either their way, or no way at all, then the Communist Party is going to have to make a decision like they did back in 1989," says DeGolyer, referring to the June4 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Hundreds, possibly thousands of unarmed demonstrators were killed when the army moved in to end the student-led protest.

DeGolyer says: "If they're out there in large enough numbers, then there will be no concessions from the government - they will go in and want to basically crack down on these people.

"Beijing has made it very clear [civil nomination] is not a process it is willing to accept."

Chow says: "If the government takes violent action ... they would win in terms of culling the people or restoring their rule, but they will lose the Hong Kong people's hearts and support."

However, Wong, who has been applying for university, says that he is encouraged by the belief that his movement will one day succeed.

"Without hope I wouldn't be doing this now," Wong says.

"I do this because I think there is hope."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
'We shall not be moved'

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