HKFP Reports Hong Kong Interviews Politics & Protest

HKFP Interview: Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong on Xi’s UK visit, human rights and democracy

HKFP Exclusive

Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong has been invited to the UK to give speeches at six universities. His visit coincides with President Xi Jinping’s state visit. Speaking to HKFP from London on Tuesday, Wong talked about the human rights protests in London, his speeches at Oxford University as well as why he often seemed to appear in the same place during Xi’s state visits.

joshua wong

Photo: StandNews.

HKFP: Last time when President Xi Jinping visited the US, you were in the US to attend events. This time Xi is visiting the UK and you’re giving speeches at British universities, was this a coincidence or did you do it on purpose?


Woah woah woah, this has nothing to do with me! Firstly, last time I was in the US to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Freedom House. I couldn’t decide when the Freedom House was founded, could I? It was before I was born, right? So I went to the US in the same week as Xi.

As for this week, Oxford Union, i.e. Oxford University’s student union, confirmed the date of visit with me as October 19 or 20 three months ago. The dates of Xi’s UK visit were not announced until a month ago, so I decided to go to the UK before Xi did. If you say I did it on purpose, it really wasn’t me. It was a coincidence. I wouldn’t intentionally try to avoid it, to say wherever Xi goes I cannot go. But both times we clashed [the visits].

吶吶吶,唔關我事。第一,美國Freedom House七十五週年紀念,Freedom House成立日期唔能夠由我決定吧?Freedom House仲早過我出世,系未?於是我同習總就撞正同一個禮拜去美國啦。今個禮拜係乜事呢,話說Oxford Union呢, 即系牛津大學的Union係三個月前已經同我確認左要係十月十九號定系二十號過來visit啦,咁所以。。。咁其實習總訪英的消息都是一個月前先公佈,咁其實我系早過習總決定去Oxford。但系如果你要話特意安排,其實真系唔關我事。系機緣巧合咯,我又唔會刻意回避,話習總去得我就唔去得。不過兩次都撞中又真系夸左小小嘅。

HKFP: Some media reports said you are being “used” by foreign anti-China forces to “follow and attack” Xi with protests, how would you respond to that?


How can I “follow and attack” Xi? I didn’t even think of getting close to him. Actually, this time, the purpose of my British visit is to give speeches at six universities. In four days I have to go to six universities and do interviews with a dozen media outlets… For me I definitely haven’t been used, and I don’t intend to “follow and attack” Xi, he is not someone who I can just follow if I want to.

HKFP: How did your speech go at Oxford University and other places? Did you see any protests against you?


At Oxford, the debate hall was full, nearly 500 people. Now I am on my way to visit the third university. I haven’t seen any protests against me yet. The response of the audience was very positive, because Hong Kong is an issue in Britain. A past colony – of course many people are interested to hear about it.

What’s more, China is a economic and trade partner of Britain. China’s human rights situation, especially Hong Kong’s situation – as Hong Kong is already the place with the most human rights in China – how Hong Kong develops will receive a lot of attention.

係牛津坐爆幾乎五百人,坐爆果個debate hall。依家去緊第三間。無遇到示威。佢地的反應好正面,因為香港對於英國來講都系一個issue,因為系殖民地,梗系多人聽啦。而且中國依家系英國係經貿上嘅合作夥伴,中國嘅人權狀況,尤其香港作為已經系中國最有人權嘅地方,點樣發展,大家都會好關注。

See also: HKFP Interview with Scholarism’s Agnes Chow

HKFP: In a recent interview with AFP, you said that the UK government has been blinded by Xi’s trade deals and has ignored human rights issues. In your opinion, which human rights issue should British Prime Minister David Cameron bring up with Xi?


I think Cameron has a responsibility. Actually, Britain signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, but China has long violated its promises in the Declaration by suppressing Hong Kong’s human rights, democracy and freedom.

The British government, as a signatory of the Declaration, no doubt has the responsibility to follow up on how the Declaration is being implemented in Hong Kong, and to ask Xi Jinping why he still won’t give Hong Kong a democratic system.


HKFP: How useful would such a conversation be in helping to change the situation in Hong Kong?


I should say, we cannot expect the sky will change in Hong Kong as soon as Cameron says something, or that China will change as soon as Xi responds to Cameron. This is impossible. But, at least, Britain needs to fulfill its responsibilities as a signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Also, Britain is a country that loves democracy and freedom, if it doesn’t talk about [democracy and freedom], what does it want to do?

joshua wong

Joshua Wong. Photo: StandNews remix.

HKFP: Can you describe the protests in London? Were they supported by a lot of people, or did people generally welcome Xi?


I saw many pro-China people here waving their little flags, they outnumbered the protesters. I think this situation is very ironic because inside China, many people are unhappy with the government. Many fighters of human rights, democracy and freedom have been arrested, and now even human rights lawyers have been arrested. I think today what I saw in London is the opposite of the situation in the mainland.

See also: HKFP Interview with HKFSU President Nathan Law.

HKFP: You filed a judicial review earlier to challenge the minimum age a person can run for the Hong Kong legislature. You said you wanted to lower it from 21 to 18 and wanted to run. If you are elected, how would you fight for democracy inside the legislature?


I think at least what needs to change is the state of our fight [for democracy] inside the legislature, which now has become expendable. But the situation is that my chances of winning the judicial review are not high because the government will appeal [if I win]. Right now, I haven’t even got the court’s permission to proceed with the case, it’s too early to talk about anything.

HKFP: When we spoke to your colleague Agnes Chow, she said Scholarism and other groups were exploring the possibilities of building a civil referendum system for people to vote on issues they care about. Any referendum system organised by the pan-democrat side is likely to be boycotted by pro-government supporters, so how would the referendum results truly reflect the opinion of society? 


I think referendums are a show of attitude for all people, just like last year’s June 22 referendum. Certainly, it had a political mobilisation effect. Its influence is bigger than its purpose in reality. Also, if the result of referendums can be linked to some lawmakers’ votes inside the legislature, it could encourage more people to take part in the referendums. But now is not the right time to build the referendum system yet, because it’s still being debated.

Wong is featured in the Lessons in Dissent documentary, available on DVD.

HKFP Interview: Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong on Xi’s UK visit, human rights and democracy