Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong has met with Germany’s foreign minister in Berlin as he seeks support overseas for the pro-democracy movement in his city – but Beijing said it “strongly disapproved” of the meeting, which it claimed was “disrespectful.”
The 22-year-old activist posted a photo of himself and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on his Twitter account, saying they spoke on the “protest situation and our cause [for] free elections and democracy in HK.”
Beijing reacted angrily to the meeting in the Reichstag during an event organized by Bild daily, saying “it is extremely wrong for German media and politicians to attempt to tap into the anti-China separatist wave.”
“It is disrespectful of China’s sovereignty and an interference in China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
“I want to stress once again that Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. No foreign government, organization or individual has the right to intervene,” Hua said, adding that Beijing “strongly disapproves” of the meeting.
‘HK the new Berlin’
Wong spoke briefly in Berlin, likening his protest-racked home city to the Cold War-era German capital and vowing to “protest until the day that we have free elections.”
“If we are now in a new Cold War, Hong Kong is the new Berlin,” he said, referring to the postwar split between communist East Berlin and the democratic West.
“‘Stand with Hong Kong’ is much more than just a mere slogan, we urge the free world to stand together with us in resisting the autocratic Chinese regime,” he said.
Out on bail
The young campaigner, who began his career as an activist at just 12 years of age, became famous during the “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014, which failed to win any concessions from Beijing. He served time in jail for those protests and is now a politician, having founded the pro-democracy outfit Demosistō, which demands that people in Hong Kong be allowed to decide their own affairs.
Wong has been arrested twice in 10 days and was lucky to get to Germany – after being stopped by police at Hong Kong airport on Monday. But he was released to continue his trip after a hearing in the Eastern Magistrates’ Court, which allowed him to change the date of his departure on his bail certificate, which was said to be “a bail certificate error.”
His lawyer said Wong had no intention of breaching his bail conditions and would be back by September 23, as planned.
“This kind of political repression will not stop us from seeking support from around the world, and the police thought I was at risk of absconding,” Wong told reporters outside the court on Tuesday, before hopping on a plane to Germany and after spending time in a detention cell.
He plans to hold talks with other German politicians before taking part in a public talk at Humboldt University on Wednesday evening.
Before leaving he said he would appeal to bipartisan German parliamentarians and the Foreign Office to support protesters, to stop exporting weapons and crowd control tools to Hong Kong police, to review Germany’s asylum laws and to postpone trade negotiations with the Hong Kong government.
He will also campaign for the passing of a German bill on human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. This is despite Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam agreeing last week to a popular demand by retracted a hated extradition bill, which ignited protests that have raged in the Asian financial hub for more than three months.
He is not expected to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has just been to China. Merkel said on Friday that the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong “must be guaranteed” after meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.
Wong told Bild, Germany’s best-selling newspaper, he was disappointed by Merkel making light of the situation in Hong Kong when she visited China. He said she could have more “clearly called for free elections in Hong Kong” when meeting the press with Li in Beijing on Friday.
After Germany, Wong plans to fly to Washington, DC, where he is likely to meet some lawmakers in a bid to garner support for protesters demanding more democracy in his home city.
Mattis backs Hong Kongers
Separately, former US defense secretary Jim Mattis, the first Pentagon chief in President Donald Trump’s administration, has told a forum in New York that protests in Hong Kong were not entirely a domestic matter for China, and that the US should at least lend moral support.
Mattis took a potshot at “Beijing’s attempt” to ram through the extradition bill in a bid to allow Hong Kong residents to be made to stand trial on mainland China, calling it a violation of the “one country, two systems” principle for the former British territory.
Mattis’ remarks contrast with Premier Li’s stance on Hong Kong during a press conference with Merkel on Friday that Chinese people had “the wisdom to take matters into their own hands.” But the former US defense chief dodged questions about a mass rally last weekend outside Washington’s consulate in Hong Kong, where a huge crowd called for Trump to “liberate” the city.
The US Congress may officially start debating a proposed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill spearheaded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and supported by the city’s pro-democracy bloc, to sanction figures who suppress the city’s freedom and democracy.
The legislation, if passed, would compel the US secretary of state to assess on an annual basis whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to justify Washington’s continued offer of a special trade status to the city, as a separate customs jurisdiction from China, under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act.
In reply, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that foreign interference in the city’s internal affairs would be unwelcome.
“Any particular provisions applying to Hong Kong from the US [like the preferential trade status] are not exclusively for the benefit of Hong Kong but are also mutually beneficial…. There are close to 1,400 US companies in Hong Kong, who will of course enjoy the benefits of positive bilateral relationship….
“But to interfere into Hong Kong’s internal affairs in the name of protecting freedoms and liberties is totally unnecessary, because we ourselves have the obligation and the duty to comply with provisions in the Basic Law,” she said.