2019.09.17 Joshua Wong Gives Historical Speech, Calling US Congressmen to “Stand for Human Rights and Democracy”

The United States Congress is scheduled to vote on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. On Tuesday night at 10 PM (17th September), the CECC held a congressional hearing on the current affairs in Hong Kong, with invited guests consisting of prominent pro-democracy figures from Hong Kong who would give testimonials at the hearing, including secretary-general of Demosistō Joshua Wong, independent singer Denise Ho, spokesperson for the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation (@HKHIIAD) Sunny Cheung and executive director of Human Rights in China Sharon Hom. Dan Garrett, author of the book “Counter-hegemonic Resistance in China’s Hong Kong: Visualizing Protest in the City”​, was also invited. The hearing was attended by around a hundred spectators including journalists, filling up the venue half an hour before the hearing even started.

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Joshua mentioned the last time he was at a congressional hearing was back in May 2017, when he proclaimed that “One country, two systems” had degenerated into “One country, one and a half systems”. But as reflected by the current situations, this constitutional principle is getting alarmingly close to one system for all. And unfortunately for Hong Kong, Beijing is incapable of understanding freedom, or governing a society where freedom is long cherished.

He recalled that the anti-extradition movement began from 9th June with 1 million people taking to the streets to demonstrate against the bill, and yet Hong Kong Government insisted on voting and passing the bill. What followed was a series of “unimaginable” events, the most noteworthy one being the siege of the Legislative Council building on 12th June in order to stop Legco meeting on the bill. Joshua was serving in the prison at the time. He was perplexed by what looked to be footage from the 2014 Umbrella Movement on the news, only to find out it was showing exactly what was happening outside. At that moment, he realised that Hongkongers “were back”, with determination much stronger than 5 years ago.

After more than 3 months of continuous protests and creative demonstration campaigns, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam had finally succumbed and withdrawn the bill, but the decision was already made too late. “This decision has no meaning anymore,” said Joshua. This is because the movement had long surpassed what it was originally meant to be – from combined voices against the bill, to a universal outcry against tyranny and to demand for true constitutional changes.

Joshua said he used to be the iconic figure of young protestors in Hong Kong, but comparing to the leaderless movement this time around, or those who are fired because they joined in the protests, or those who are injured but too scared to seek medical support, or even those who committed suicide in martyrish fashion, his sacrifice was minuscule and insignificant. Of the 1400 people arrested, the youngest is only 12 years old. “I don’t know them personally, but I feel their suffering from the bottom of my heart,” said Joshua. He believes that those who participate in this movement belong to the same community, a community that is fighting for a common vision where the future is governed by self-determination of the Hong Kong people, a future that is glimmering with hope and worth fighting for.

Joshua asserted that Hong Kong is now at a critical point in history. The officials have stopped issuing letter of no objection, meaning all future demonstrations will be regarded as unlawful assemblies. Hongkongers are also threatened by the concentration of the People’s Liberation Army in Shenzhen, and although Xi Jinping might not take violent approaches in dealing with the situations in Hong Kong before 1st October (National Day of China), and the chance of tank suppression is slim and unreasonable, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities. He believes that 2019 is an important turning point for Hong Kong, and he wishes the US Congress will stand alongside Hongkongers during this critical time.


Joshua Wong’s full speech:

Good morning Chairman McGovern, Co-Chairman Rubio, and members of this Commission:

It’s an honor to be invited back to Capitol Hill to speak about developments in Hong Kong. You may recall that I last traveled to Washington more than two years ago and testified before this commission, in this same building, on May 3, 2017.

At the time, I warned about the probable disqualification of my friend Nathan Law, who had been Asia’s youngest democratically-elected legislator and who is in the audience this morning. I also warned about massive political prosecution.

Unfortunately, both materialized: Nathan lost his seat that July, and we were both imprisoned in August for our roles in the Umbrella Movement. Further legal troublers in relation to the 2014 protests prevented me from traveling abroad.

While I said then that Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” was becoming “One Country, One-and-a-Half Systems,” I don’t think there is any doubt among observers who have followed recent events that, today, we are approaching dangerously close to “One Country, One System.” The present state of affairs reveals Beijing’s utter inability to understand, let alone govern, a free society.

The ongoing demonstrations began on June 9 when one million Hong Kongers took to the streets in protest of proposed legislation that would’ve allowed criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to China, where there are no guarantees of the rule of law. Still, before the night had even ended, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the bill’s reading would resume in three days. Hong Kongers were bracing for their last fight on June 12.

And then the unthinkable happened: Knowing that Beijing controlled enough votes in the Legislative Council, protesters surrounded the complex early in the morning, successfully preventing lawmakers from convening. I was then serving my third jail sentence. For a moment, I wondered why the news channel was replaying footage of the Umbrella Movement, though it was not long before I realized Hong Kongers were back. Lam suspended the bill on June 15, but fell short of fully withdrawing it. A historic two million people demonstrated the following day, equivalent to one in four out of our entire population. I’m not aware of anything comparable to this level of discontent against a government in modern history.

I was released exactly three months ago, on June 17, and have since joined fellow Hong Kongers to protest in the most creative ways possible. In addition to the bill’s withdrawal, we demanded Lam to retract the characterization of us as “rioters,” drop all political charges, and establish an independent investigation into police brutality. Some of us crowdfunded for newspaper advertisements ahead of the G20 summit in late June calling for the world not to neglect Hong Kong. Others broke into and occupied the Legislative Council complex on July 1, the same day another 550,000 Hong Kongers protested peacefully.

Crowds continued to show up in large numbers every weekend, with smaller rallies taking place almost daily across the territory. But the government would not listen; instead of defusing the political crisis, it dramatically empowered the police. The movement reached a turning point on July 21. That night, thugs with suspected ties to organized crime gathered in the Yuen Long train station and indiscriminately attacked not just protesters returning home, reporters on the scene,but even passersby. The police refused to show up despite repeated emergency calls, plunging Hong Kong into a state of anarchy and mob violence.

On August 5 alone, the day Hong Kongers participated in a general strike, the police shot 800 canisters of tear gas to disperse the masses. Compare that to only 87 fired in the entire Umbrella Movement five years ago, and the police’s excessive force today is clear. Their increasingly liberal use of pepper spray, pepper balls, rubber bullets, sponge bullets, bean bag rounds, and water cannons — almost all of which are imported from Western democracies — are no less troubling. In light of this, I applaud Chairman McGovern for introducing the PROTECT Hong Kong Act last week in the House of Representatives. American companies mustn’t profit from the violent crackdown of freedom-loving Hong Kongers.

Co-Chairman Rubio is also right for recently writing that “Hong Kong’s special status,” under American law, “depends on the city being treated as a separate customs area, on open international financial connections, and on the Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the U.S. dollar.” Beijing shouldn’t have it both ways, reaping all the economic benefits of Hong Kong’s standing in the world while eradicating our sociopolitical identity. This is the most important reason why the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act enjoys the broad support of Hong Kong’s civil society, a point which I want every member of Congress to take note.

Lam finally withdrew the bill earlier this month, but just as protesters have long stopped calling for her resignation, this decision was almost meaningless by now. The movement is far from over, because it has long moved beyond one bill or one person. Our fifth and most important demand is genuine structural change in Hong Kong. Our government’s lack of representation lies at the heart of the matter.

As I speak, Hong Kong is standing at a critical juncture. The stakes have never been higher. Authorities have all but stopped issuing permits known as “letters of no objection,” so virtually every demonstration is an “illegal assembly.” Moreover, we are confronted by the huge Chinese military buildup just across the border in Shenzhen. President Xi Jinping is unlikely to take bold action before the upcoming 70th National Day in October, but no one can be sure what’s next. Sending in the tanks remains irrational, though not impossible.

Chinese interference in Macau, Taiwan, Tibet, and especially Xinjiang, serves as a reminder that Beijing is prepared to go far in pursuit of its grand imperial project.

I was once the face of Hong Kong’s youth activism. In the present leaderless movement, however, my sacrifices are minimal, compared to those among us who have been laid off for protesting, who have been injured but too afraid of even going to a hospital, or who have been forced to take their own lives. Two have each lost an eye. The youngest of the 1,400 arrested so far is only 12-year-old schoolboy. I don’t know them, yet their pain is my pain. We belong to the same imagined community, struggling for our right of self-determination so we can build one brighter, common future.

A baby born today will not even have celebrated his 28th birthday by July 1, 2047, when Hong Kong’s policy of “50-year no change” is set to expire. That deadline is closer to us than it appears; there’s no return. Decades from now, when historians look back, I’m sure that 2019, much more so than 2014, will turn out to have been a watershed. I hope, too, that historians will celebrate the United States Congress for having stood on the side of Hong Kongers, the side of human rights and democracy.


 Denise Ho’s full speech:

Thank you Chairman McGovern, Co-Chairman Rubio and members of this Commission for holding this hearing, and for having us here at this very critical time of Hong Kong. We hope that our personal accounts will be helpful in your deliberations on what the United States Congress and American people can do to help the Hong Kong people in face of the erosion of our liberties and autonomy.

For more than 100 days now, the Hong Kong youth has led our city into the historical fight of our times. It is a leaderless movement, with widespread participation from people of all walks of life. It is a fight for democracy, a fight for human rights, and most of all, a fight for universal values and freedoms.

What started out as a million people march against an extradition bill, morphed into a determined fight for a fundamental political reform in Hong Kong.

Misjudgments and arrogance on behalf of Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong, resulted in a total clampdown of the Beijing government over Hong Kong affairs, at the same time surfacing the reluctance of both governments in fully implementing the “One country, Two systems” in Hong Kong.

With Carrie Lam hiding behind the police force for months, refusing to resolve political issues with sincerity, she has given police full authority to suppress the protests at all costs.

Since June, the Hong Kong police has shown excessive brutality in their use of force, arresting and beating up peaceful protesters heavily at uncountable occasions. More than 1400 people have been arrested up to date, with even more (including journalists, first aiders and social workers)severely injured by tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and the police’s indiscriminate use of batons. On a personal note, It has been extremely difficult to be away from home and to watch the people safeguard the city from afar, especially in the past weekend where we have seen police behavior getting out of control.

Sadly, it has become a common daily scene to see youngsters being pinned to the ground, with bleeding head concussions and some even knocked unconscious, but still refused medical care by the police.Riot police and plainclothes officers have shown no restraint while performing their duties. From the early weeks, they have deliberately hidden their ID numbers, refused to show warrant cards even on request, therefore making it impossible for citizens to verify the legitimacy of plainclothes officers, nor to hold any police officer accountable for their violations.

Last month, a university student in possession of ten laser pointers has been arrested and detained for 48 hours. A first aider was shot in the eye by a bean bag round dispersed from above head level, risking permanent loss of sight. On August 31st, police from the Special Tactical Unit charged into Prince Edward MTR station, beating up passengers randomly. Consequently, they shut down the station for 24 hours, refusing medical care for those who were injured, raising suspicion of possible death in the station. They have recently charged into secondary school yards, shopping malls and on buses, where young people merely dressed in black clothing could be searched or even arrested without justified reasons.

In short, in our Hong Kong today, being young is the crime. We are now officially a police state, where people live in constant fear of political repercussions. In addition, on 21st July, in an infamous mob attack that occurred in the Yuen Long MTR station, where a white shirt clad attacked civilians indiscriminately, the police failed to arrive in a timely manner, making their appearance only 39 minutes after the incident, despite hundreds of emergency calls for help. Similar situations occurred later in the protests, where police would give favorable treatment to mobs and pro-Beijing supporters, helping them leave the sites after having attacked protesters, showing clear and continuous collusion between police and triad members.

On August 11th, police obstructed pro bono lawyers from providing legal assistance to arrested protesters in the Sun Uk Ling Holding Center, violating the legal rights of 54 persons. There were also claims from female protesters of sexual harassment inside of the police station, and of physical abuses on numerous occasions.

Since July, more than thirty “no objection applications” for rallies and marches have been systematically denied, including the 1.7 million people rally on 18th August, where protesters gathered and marched peacefully despite the ban. According to Hong Kong Basic Law and international standards, Hong Kong residents have the freedom of assembly and demonstration, where peaceful public assembly is a legitimate use of public space. By banning the assemblies, the Hong Kong government is violating the people’s right to peacefully protest.

With police violations accumulating by the day, Hong Kong people have been demanding for an independent investigative council to be formed. The Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to do so, claiming we have “a well-established (IPCC), set up for exactly this purpose”. This existing watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is in fact entirely appointed by the CE herself, has no legal power to summon witnesses nor to force the police to provide sufficient documents, therefore is powerless in bringing justice to the situation.

On its front, it all started with an extradition bill. But at the core, it has always been about fundamental conflicts between these two very different set of values : on one side, the China model, which has no respect over human rights and rule of law, and demands for their people’s submission. And the other, a hybrid city that has enjoyed these freedoms for the most of its existence, with a deep attachment to these universal values that the United States and other western societies are also endeared to.

Unfortunately, with the rise of the present iron regime of Xi Jinping, the “One country, Two systems” is racing towards its death. Hong Kong represents something very unique in the world. As a crossroads that is strongly rooted in its own Asian cultures, and yet has come to be known for its values and of the rule of law, transparent institutions, and freedom of information and expression. We represents the hope that as nations develop, they will evolve towards these universal values which protect individuals everywhere.

These protections are why over 1500 multinational companies have chosen to place their regional headquarters in Hong Kong, the biggest proportion of these by country, from the United States. Hong Kong has become one of the most globally interconnected, financially important trading economies in the world, helping bring countries closer together through finance and today, the flow of data, goods, ideas, culture and people.

However, this system is now under threat like never before. Companies such as Hong Kong’s major airline Cathay Pacific, has succumbed to political pressure, firing dozens of employees due to their political stance, some only over a mere facebook post. Business people are coerced into making political decisions. MTR corporation, our subway system, has deliberately shut down stations during rallies and marches due to pressure from a state newspaper, resulting in more than hundreds of arrests and unnecessary injuries.

As a singer and activist from Hong Kong, I have experienced the suppression first hand. Ever since the Umbrella Movement in 2014, I have been blacklisted by the communist government. My songs and my name are censored on Chinese internet, and I have been called out several times by state newspapers. Pressured by the Chinese government, sponsors have pulled out, even international brands have kept their distances in fear of being associated with me. For the past five years, and even more so recently, China tried to silence me with their propaganda machines and smearing campaigns, making claims that are completely false. Right now, I am facing threats from the communist government, pro-Beijing supporters, and could face arrest and prosecution at anytime.

Not only have I faced increased difficulties in continuing my singing career in China and Hong Kong, but the self-censorship has now spread towards global institutions and cities. Recently, the National Gallery of Victory in Melbourne, Australia, denied a venue to an collaborative event of Chinese artist Badiucao and myself, due to “security concerns”. The 2019 gay pride in Montreal, Canada, banned Hong Kong activists due to similar reasons. Celebrities from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China are all pressured into taking a political stance, voicing their unanimous “support” for the Beijing government on social media, and could be condemned for keeping their silence. Even the songwriter of the new unofficial “anthem” for Hong Kong, has opted to stay anonymous, in fear of future reprisal.

Hongkongers are now living in constant fear, and have unfortunately lost the most part of our freedoms. For a city that has been infamously known as politically indifferent, the younger generations have took up the role to safeguard our home, standing up courageously to the corrupted system, in spite of increased and ruthless suppression.

They have awakened other Hong Kong people, and together we have taken the world by surprise with our continued fight. To the rest of the world, the United States is often a symbol of freedom and democracy. The freedom Americans enjoy is something the people of Hong Kong have long hoped for. Even though our languages and cultures differ, what we have in common is the pursuit for justice, freedom, and democracy.

Through the challenges of Hong Kong, the West is waking up to China’s insinuating power in a global scale. Hong Kong is connected to the world in multiple ways (institutional, social, economic, personal), but China is trying to isolate it to exert control. If Hong Kong falls, it would easily become the springboard for the totalitarian regime of China to push its rules and priorities overseas, utilizing its economic powers to conform others to their communists values, just as they have done with Hong Kong in the past 22 years. The US and its allies have everything to fear if they wish to maintain a world that is free, open, and civil.

I therefore urge the US Congress to stand by Hong Kong, and most of all, to pass the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This is not a plea for for the so-called “foreign interference”, nor for Hong Kong independence.

This is a plea for universal human rights.

This is a plea for democracy.

This is a plea for the freedom to choose.

And lastly, may I quote Eleanor Roosevelt, your most beloved First Lady:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” This is a global fight for the universal values that we all cherish, and Hong Kong is in the very frontlines of this fight. We were once fearful of what might come with our silence, and for that, we have now become fearless.