On the international front, Independent Women’s Forum has been paying close attention to Hong Kong, a flashpoint where China’s encroaching tyranny has provoked huge protests for freedom and democracy. Last Thursday, Jan. 16, IWF co-hosted with the American Diplomacy Foundation a lively dinner discussion in Washington, D.C., at the Metropolitan Club, to explore the question, with its many lessons and conundrums, of “Hong Kong: What Next?”
The evening featured two guest speakers: Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists; and Taiwan’s Christine Hsueh, Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington for the Republic of China. Moderating the panel was IWF’s Foreign Policy Fellow Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and editorialist at one time based in Hong Kong, who has spent considerable time there in recent months to cover the protests.
IWF was proud to co-host an event that attracted such a superb audience, including diplomatic and policy experts on mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; figures from Capitol Hill and prominent advocates generally for liberty, and U.S. national security. The discussion was especially timely in light of the presidential election earlier this month in Taiwan, where China’s chokehold on Hong Kong has set off alarms about the perils of China’s renewed ambitions to govern Taiwan under a similar promise of “one country, two systems” — a promise that China to a rapidly rising extent has been violating in Hong Kong. Voters on Taiwan delivered a landslide win to the incumbent, President Tsai Ing-wen, whose campaign included direct warnings, citing Hong Kong’s experience, about the dangers of Beijing’s enticements and ambitions.
We opened our discussion with a showing of an anthem that Hong Kong’s protesters came up with last summer, titled “Glory to Hong Kong.” Hong Kongers have been singing this anthem for months, in the streets, at sports matches, in flash protests at shopping malls, all over the territory. Because Hong Kong authorities have a record of jailing some of those perceived to be leaders of the democracy protests, the musical composer has chosen to remain anonymous, and the lyrics were crowd-sourced online. There are many performances of this anthem circulating online. We chose a version performed by an orchestra of Hong Kong musicians wearing the masks, goggles and helmets that in various combinations have become the hallmark gear of the protesters. It is a profoundly moving anthem (here’s the link again), a song about liberty, a song of determination and yearning.
The talk also took in the lessons for the U.S. itself about China’s aggressively expanding ambitions, evident in its punishing treatment of Hong Kong, and the likely implications of a new U.S. law dubbed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This act, signed into law by President Trump last November, is intended to monitor and help safeguard the rights and freedoms that China promised under treaty to Hong Kong for 50 years following Britain’s 1997 handover of the former Crown Colony. Passage of this law sent a useful symbolic message of U.S. support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement; the big question now, in the face of China’s pushback, is how thoroughly it will be enforced.
By way of further background on our two speakers, both eloquent advocates of liberty, justice and democratic choice:
Nathan Law first rose to prominence as a student leader of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. For this role, he has served time in prison in Hong Kong. In 2016, he became the youngest person ever elected to the legislature in Hong Kong. Authorities stripped him of his seat when he added to his oath of office a denunciation of tyranny. As a founder of Hong Kong’s Demosisto pro-democracy party, Nathan continues to advocate for freedom in Hong Kong. He is currently doing graduate work in East Asian Studies at Yale University.
Christine Hsueh is a senior diplomat of the Republic of China, educated on Taiwan, with previous postings in Washington, Los Angeles and Prague. Just prior to her current assignment in Washington, she served as Director General of the Department of North American Affairs, in the ROC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
IWF’s moderator, Claudia Rosett, has contributed articles on Hong Kong’s current protests to publications including The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News and City Journal. Claudia was based in Hong Kong from 1986-1993 as editorial-page editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal, a job in which she won an Overseas Press Club Citation for Excellence for her on-site coverage in 1989 of China’s Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown.
While there are no easy answers to the question of what comes next for Hong Kong, what did become clear in this evening of discussion is the tremendous value that the people of both Hong Kong and Taiwan place on freedom and rule of law backed by genuine democracy, notwithstanding the threats and pressure from Beijing. In these, there is fellowship and inspiration for America itself.