NEW YORK – Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders in the United States on Tuesday shadowed the start of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit, but they failed to secure top White House meetings as they seek to pressure Beijing to honor governance agreements.
Veteran democracy advocate Martin Lee, 77, and student leader Joshua Wong, 18, are using the one-year anniversary of the mass democracy protests that clogged the Asian financial hub for 79 days to get Washington to push Xi on democratic reform.
However, their attempts to meet with top White House officials failed, Lee told Reuters in an interview in New York.
“The world ought to really sit up with China’s influence increasing by the day. Hong Kong really should be used as the focal point and as a test of Xi Jinping’s avowed intentions of being a reformer,” said Lee.
The protests, known as the Umbrella Movement, seeks full democracy in the former British colony rather than the creeping dominance of mainland China, the leaders said.
“(Lee) is the most optimistic (man in Hong Kong) and I’m preparing for the worst,” said Wong, who is due back in court on Oct. 26 to face charges of incitement, contempt of court, and obstruction of police.
Wong, a second-year student at Open University of Hong Kong, showed no intention of leaving Hong Kong, however.
“In this moment, we cannot see any evidence that Xi Jinping will really motivate mainland China to have better human rights, so it’s really a long road for our generation,” Wong said.
Freedom House, a rights advocacy group, is honoring Lee, Wong, and Benny Tai at a gala in Washington to mark the organization’s 75th anniversary.
President Xi, meanwhile, will meet U.S. tech titans and tour Boeing Co’s biggest factory and Microsoft Corp’s sprawling campus near Seattle as he kicks off a U.S. visit that also includes a black-tie state dinner at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama.
Hong Kong was returned to Chinese Communist Party rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” form of government that gave it wide-ranging freedoms denied in mainland China, but reserved ultimate authority for Beijing.
China also held out the promise of universal suffrage. The electoral blueprint rejected by lawmakers in June would have allowed a direct vote for the city’s next chief executive in 2017, but only from among pre-screened, pro-Beijing candidates.
While their dress illustrated the nearly 60 years age difference, with Lee in suit and tie and Wong in T-shirt and sneakers, their voices were the same.
“As you heard from Joshua, the students still support one country, two systems, not trying to fight for independence. Therefore, China must be made to honor her promises, even though those promises were broken for the last 18 years,” said Lee.
The law promises Hong Kong will retain its own legal and parliamentary systems and currency until 2047.
For Wong, that date looms large in how to prepare for the future.
“For the new generation, we are trying to think out of the box. We are trying to figure out if 15 years (from now), we need to have another debate on the Hong Kong future, to have to increase our bargaining power,” said Wong.
Wong, the leader of the student group Scholarism, said his organization’s computers were hacked by the government, exposing his member list to the public.
“Even the volunteers of my organization, secondary school students who are 16 years, cannot enter mainland China,” he said, adding that 90 percent of the 200 people in his organization are blocked from entering mainland China or Macau, which could potentially affect their future job prospects.
Wong said he was turned back at the Malaysian border, saying he was called a “trouble maker.”