Hong Kong teenage protest leader Joshua Wong launches pro-independence political party

Joshua Wong is too young to stand as a candidate for his own party

Will Worley
Sunday 10 April 2016 21:50
Joshua Wong is general secretary of Demosisto
Joshua Wong is general secretary of Demosisto

The young face of the ‘Umbrella Movement’ which drew the world’s attention to Hong Kong in 2014 has founded a political party.

At just 19 years old, Joshua Wong is too young to stand as a candidate, but is now general secretary of the new Demosisto party.

The party’s primary policy is self-determination for Hong Kong and candidates may stand in Legislative Council elections as soon as September. Demosisto chairman, Nathan Law, said he and two other members of the group are considering contesting seats in the election.

Demosisto joins a number of new political parties in Hong Kong which seek to maintain or increase autonomy from Chinese rule, but will also face a number of pro-Beijing parties.

The decision was made earlier this year to dissolve Mr Wong’s previous student organisation, Scholarism, and to take campaigning from the city streets to the corridors of power.

"Street activism is not enough if we want to fight for a better future," Mr Wong told the BBC.

"We have to enter the system, create a political party and shape the political agenda, in order to drive forward our movement for self-determination."

He added that he and his party colleagues expected to be “suppressed” by the strongly authoritarian regime which governs from Beijing.

However, Mr Wong is no stranger to fighting the authorities. He made his name in Scholarism, which in 2012 led a successful, 100,000 strong campaign to reject proposed “national education” from being taught in Hong Kong's schools. The programme, which omitted the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, was considered by many to be pro-Communist “brainwashing”.

Mr Wong then made global fame in 2014 when he played a leading role in the Umbrella Movement, which campaigned for democracy and increased voting rights. The movement, characterised by non-violent civil disobedience, gained global media coverage.

But Demosisto’s aims go far beyond the aims of any of the previous protests movements Mr Wong has been involved in: Their main target is to achieve autonomy for Hong Kong through democratic means, even within 10 years.

“Hong Kong people should decide the future of Hong Kong rather than allowing the Communist Party to determine our future,” he told local news outlet Hong Kong Free Press.

“It is time to fight for our self-determination. Independence should be one of the options inside the self-determination referendum.”

However, he knows this is a difficult ambition. "We know we can't achieve self-determination in one single step, so we propose a 10-year timetable for the plan," Mr Wong said, adding that the party would lobby for international support for its cause. "We hope to decide our second future through a universal referendum."

The desire for a relatively speedy referendum is all the more pressing as Hong Kong’s 50-year transitionary period, following the handover from Britain, ends in 2047, well within the lifetime of Mr Wong and his friends.

Hong Kong, ruled by Britain until 1997, is currently governed from Beijing under the concept of ‘one nation, two systems’. Under this principle, Hong Kong has maintained its capitalistic and democratic institutions and freedoms. However, there have been fears in recent years that the Communist Party has been trying to increase its hold over Hong Kong.

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