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What's Next For The Pro-Democracy Movement In Hong Kong

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Biden administration has announced it will provide safe haven status for citizens of Hong Kong who reside in the U.S. The decision comes after the Chinese government has all but abolished the 50-year agreement that it made to allow Hong Kong to operate independently. China has imposed a harsh security law that makes nearly all dissent illegal. Lawmakers and activists have been arrested and imprisoned. Newspapers have stopped publishing. Citizens have been leaving. Samuel Chu is a Hong Kong native who now lives in the U.S. He's founding director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council which lobbies the U.S. government. But his family and many activists stay in Hong Kong where they have faced arrest and prison sentences. Thanks for being with us.

SAMUEL CHU: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You're in constant contact with your home. What's it like there?

CHU: The fact that the Biden administration had to put out a deferred enforcement departure order that extends people's ability to stay in the U.S, it's really kind of the indication of how swiftly and abruptly the curtain has fallen on Hong Kong. We're talking about a city that once was considered the freest and most open city in the world to a place where people are seeking refuge and refugee status here in the U.S. and other places and leaving in droves because they are really living under an authoritarian regime now.

SIMON: Mr. Chu, just a couple years ago in 2019, nearly a fifth of the population of Hong Kong reportedly was in the streets to demonstrate for democracy. What's possible now with these new laws?

CHU: A year ago when the national security law was implemented, really imposed, on Hong Kong, it has really become the supreme law of the land. The organization that helped to organize the two-million-people march that you mentioned have now come to the decision that they are going to be disbanding because of the threat of the national security law. This following the largest teacher's union in Hong Kong last week that have been in existence for 48 years, one of the largest civic society group in Hong Kong, they announced that they were disbanding.

And we saw that the same way for not just community organization, but Apple Daily, the opposition newspaper in Hong Kong, was essentially forced to disband under the national security law because their executive were arrested, and their assets were frozen, companies were told not to do business with them. And that happened literally overnight.

SIMON: Mr. Chu, what would you do? Britain decided that there, you know, wasn't anything they could do. What can the world community do? China is an imposing power.

CHU: Yeah, I think that I'm glad to finally see Britain step up and say that this is actually our unique responsibilities. They have offered similar safe-haven schemes where people who have a British national overseas passport to go there and live there for a period of time and with a pathway to citizenship. I look at that as being the first step on international community, backing up the promise that they made to Hong Kongers. So that's one, I think, immediate short-term step.

SIMON: I mean, if I might point out the obvious, though, that's saving Hong Kongers by getting out of the city.

CHU: Exactly. And that's unfortunate. But I think it is the reality we're facing now today in the short-term, in the immediate-term. But I would also say, I think, that it is part of our hope that it will keep the movement and the pro-democracy movement alive by preserving generations of leaders, of courageous protesters and activists so that they can continue the movement overseas.

But looking back, back in Hong Kong, we have never witnessed something similar to this. And I think people in Hong Kong are continuing to fight, and that's an important thing I think people need to realize. Hong Kong might seem like it has fallen. But people are still there who understands their hope and their aspirations and their agency for self-determination.

SIMON: I was - so I was in Whole Foods yesterday, Mr. Chu. And there was a woman in the checkout line. She would come to Hong Kong from where she was a student during the Umbrella Revolution. And she was wearing a T-shirt that stopped me. It, like, was in Nike style and had the swoosh. And it said, run like a Hong Kong journalist.

CHU: (Laughter).

SIMON: And I just thought that said so much about Hong Kong's moxie and wit and pluck and, you know, grit.

CHU: Yeah, it's true. And I think that that honesty is what gives me so much hope, is that people think, you know, on the outside, they're like, oh, Hong Kong, you know, it's done. It's over. It's just another Chinese city, but at every turn, you see these, you know, signs of the fact that, you know, it's hard to take that autonomy from people they have lived in and breathed in and exercised in actively for so long. And so it does give me hope. And that's actually what keeps me going even with this horrible news that comes out every week.

SIMON: Samuel Chu is founder and managing director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

CHU: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.