Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Activist Edward Leung on Localism in Hong Kong

To listen to our June 6, 2016 Subversity Show Online interview with Edward Leung, click here.
2018 June update: Edward Leung was sentenced to a draconian six years in prison in June, 2018. Just prior to that, he wrote some thoughts on Facebook.   

Edward Leung Tin-kei (梁天琦) is a key Hong Kong localist activist who was barred from running in the recent Legislative Council elections that nonetheless resulted in fellow localists gaining seats, keeping alight the flame for self determination and even independence.  He would likely have won a seat too if he wasn't banned.

When I interviewed the Indigenous Party spokesman in June, 2016, a few days after his 25th birthday, while he expressed he would likely run in the 3 September 2016 Hong Kong Legislative Council elections, little did I expect him to go through the motions of retracting his commitment to the cause of Hong Kong independence in an ultimately abortive attempt to qualify for the election (he was still banned), nor did I expect him to be pushed to the ground in a "scuffle" with a Ta Kung Pao reporter last month.  However, he likely remains committed to the independence cause.

Edward Leung interviewed 6 June 2016 at HKU Starbucks.  Photos © Daniel C. Tsang 2016
The Subversity Show Online interview in June reveals this bright Hong Kong University philosophy student as articulate and forthright when asked about his views on Hong Kong independence.  In June, I was in Hong Kong attending a library sustainability conference, and had heard him speak the previous Saturday at an alternative June 4 forum at HKU, where he was one of five speakers (one from each generation of activism).  There, he eloquently explained in Cantonese why as a longtime Hong Kong resident (he came as a young kid from Wuhan) he identified as a Hong Konger and believed, as did the other panelists, that it was more important for Hong Kong people to discuss Hong Kong's future, rather than China's, which they saw as just meddling in local affairs. Leung, after all, had won an amazing 66,524 votes when he ran last March in a by-election (he didn't win), proving that his views have huge resonance among the population, especially those around his age (he's 25).

In the interview he describes how he became radicalized when he saw his friends beaten up (bloodied) by the police in earlier local protests.  He speaks out against the unfairness of immigration policies allowing Chinese nationals to be admitted to Hong Kong without Hong Kong government vetting (only China does it).   His group is known for demonstrating against mainlanders but he explained that the purpose was aimed at stopping parallel traders and smugglers.  While he himself came from Wuhan, China at age 1, his mom spoke to him in Cantonese from his arrival in Hong Kong, even though her Cantonese wasn't very good.  That is why he identifies as a Hong Kong person, he explained.

As for politics in general, he saw the decline of social leaders, such as Joshua Wong nowadays, when he "doesn't have the same influence". According to Leung, people criticize him (Joshua Wong) as changing his political ideology, seeing independence as "no use", but he later changed his stance, now advocating self determination. 

Ironically he expected people to criticize himself as well in future.  As for his earlier by-election vote totals, he was surprised as he thought he was more radical than the public but he got more and more support.  He explained what happened during the Mongkok protests (for which he has been arrested) and what led to it.  Police actually allowed them to remain with the hawkers but later the riot squad showed up and some people argued they were there to enjoy the food.  He was eating when a disturbance broke up, with the police declaring an "illegal assembly". 

He says he was charged with "rioting"  after the police shot two bullets into the air.  People were beaten up and people started to retreat.  We could "smell the gunpowder" and people became more angry.  He sees the potential sentence of five years as "quite harsh".

As for government surveilance he says he has heard "weird voices" on his phone. He believes that publicity or the media coverage is the only way to protect the activists.  Apps like Telegram are not safe enough; Firechat is not very useful.

On campus he has protested against the Hong Kong University Council head, with a class boycott on top of getting involved in the elections, thus missing more than half of the semester, but his department at HKU has helped him to rearrange his schedule so he could still complete his studies.  He still had one summer semester after our interview.

--  Daniel C. Tsang

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