Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong and others scuffle with police as they protest during the election.  Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong and others scuffle with police during an election protest. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

A web-based seminar on democracy scheduled for next week is set to become a virtual assembly of some of Beijing’s most fierce critics and mortal foes.

The organizer of the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, a two-day event to be held via video on June 18 and 19, has confirmed that US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and his predecessors John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong will be among its keynote speakers to swap ideas and compare notes on defending democracy worldwide.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Tsai, the first to speak on the second day of the event, would highlight Taiwan’s feat in squashing the Covid-19 epidemic as well as its success story about democratization.

On the official website of the summit, Tsai is referred to as the President of the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name. The upcoming webinar will be her first international summit after she was sworn in for her second four-year term last month. The island’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, was invited to attend last year and paved the way for Tsai’s participation.

Beijing is yet to respond, but its embassy in Copenhagen is likely to lodge objections to the event with the Danish side, given Beijing’s imperative to browbeat any international presence of the self-governed island that it regards as a renegade province.

Taiwanese papers say the event will mark a new high in Tsai’s “Covid-19” diplomacy to lift the island’s profile globally and counter Beijing’s subjugation, on the strength of the island’s exemplary work to fight off the coronavirus and generous donations of medical supplies to the US and Europe.

Normally, it would be unlikely for Tsai to fly to Copenhagen to share the same rostrum with other speakers as Denmark has diplomatic ties with China, yet the pandemic has given the Taiwanese leader a chance to join the seminar remotely, like all other participants.

It is also said that Tsai will only deliver a pre-recorded video address, but another source within the island’s Foreign Ministry said she would not squander her rare moment in the international spotlight with just a recording.

Also, all eyes will be on Joshua Wong, the face of Hong Kong’s rebelling youngsters, when he takes part in a panel discussion and gives his account of the situation in his city as a Beijing-decreed national security law looms.

The 24-year-old chief of Demosisto, a Hong Kong political outfit advocating self-determination, will take part in a 30-minute dialogue with a moderator in a session about “fighting for democracy – from the battlegrounds of Hong Kong,” alongside former NATO chief and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who founded the forum in 2017.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a longstanding critic of China. Photo: AFP/Eric Baradat

Wong is apparently not demoralized by Beijing’s new security legislation, which is being crafted by China’s legislature to criminalize foreign agents and their local accomplices in the territory.

Observers believe Wong will be testing Beijing’s bottom line before the legislation kicks in, as he and other leading pro-democracy activists and lawmakers are still waiting to see if the new law will be retroactive and if their acts, like attending such meetings with Beijing’s foes, will be deemed illegal and dangerous to China’s state security.

Asked if he would fear being prosecuted and even jailed once the law is imposed on Hong Kong, Wong said he did not pursue the city’s breakaway from China and that mustering global support for the city’s democracy falls outside of the scope of national security.

Wong and several other heavyweight opposition politicians are believed to be among the first to be targeted by the law, which will enable Beijing to dispatch its state agents to the territory. The legislation has triggered a hefty backlash from the US and the United Kingdom, who accuse Beijing of backpedaling on its pledges of autonomy for Hong Kong.

Wong’s previous appeal against a travel ban was quashed by a court earlier this year after he was charged with instigating others to join an unapproved assembly. This happened in a siege of the Hong Kong police headquarters in June last year at the onset of the city’s anti-China extradition bill protests.

Pompeo announced last month that Washington would revoke its preferential treatment for Hong Kong, like its separate customs territory recognition, due to the city’s diminishing autonomy amid Beijing’s encroachment.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen inspects an anti-invasion drill in May 2019 on a beach on the island’s southern coast of Fangshan. Photo: AFP

Pompeo, for his part, will talk about “China and the challenge to free societies,” a topic he is well-versed with as a leading China-basher in the Trump administration.

It remains to be seen if he will have any interaction with Tsai and Wong throughout the simulcast. The sight of the trio appearing side by side, even via video, would surely be galling for Beijing.

The annual summit is organized by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, a non-profit organization, to be a top international forum for analysis and exchanges on the security and economic challenges facing the democratic world, in light of the current decline of liberal democracies.

Other notable speakers include former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana and Microsoft president Brad Smith.