Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

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Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, speaks to the media after leaving Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute on Monday, June 17, 2019. (AFP)
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An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

  • Joshua Wong is the poster child of the huge pro-democracy ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests in 2014
  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday to protest

HONG KONG: Leading Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong walked free from prison on Monday and vowed to join historic anti-government protests rocking the finance hub, as activists debated how to keep pressure on the city’s embattled pro-Beijing leader.

Organizers said some two million people marched in tropical heat on Sunday calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, protesting a now abandoned bill that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

The city has witnessed unprecedented scenes as public anger boils toward the city’s leaders and Beijing, with two record-breaking rallies a week apart punctuated by violent clashes between protesters and police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Wong, the poster child of the huge pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014, became the latest voice to call for Lam’s resignation as he was released from a sentence imposed over his leadership of those demonstrations.

“She is no longer qualified to be Hong Kong’s leader,” he told reporters. “I will also fight with all Hong Kongers to oppose the evil China extradition law.”

Wong was sent to prison in May and was eligible for early release for good behavior — there is no indication the move was linked to the current protests.

Opposition to the extradition bill united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong in recent weeks, from influential legal and business bodies to religious leaders.

And while the spark for the last week of protests has been the threat of extradition to China, the movement has since morphed into the latest expression of public rage against both the city’s leaders and Beijing.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

They point to the failure of the “Umbrella Movement” to win any concessions, the imprisonment of protest leaders, the disqualification of popular lawmakers and the disappearance of Beijing-critical booksellers, among recent examples.

Critics feared the Beijing-backed extradition law would entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicized courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub, sparking unprecedented protest turnouts.

The estimate for Sunday’s massive rally has not been independently verified but if confirmed it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history.

Police, who historically give far lower estimates for political protests, said 338,000 people turned out at the demonstration’s “peak” — still their largest crowd estimate on record.

On Monday the massive crowds from the previous night abandoned their occupation of a highway next to the parliament.

Instead smaller groups gathered in a nearby park to discuss how to keep up pressure on Lam.

“We will have to stay here till Carrie Lam changes her mind,” said Candy, 32.

But others weren’t sure if Lam’s resignation would make a difference given Beijing’s hold on the city.

“The Chinese government will just send another Carrie Lam and there will be no change,” fumed Kok, a 21-year-old design student.

The extradition furor is just the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

The sheer size of the last week’s crowds, and unprecedented violent clashes on Wednesday, forced Lam into a major climbdown.

On Saturday she indefinitely suspended the unpopular extradition bill and she apologized a day later for the attempt causing “conflict and disputes.”

But protesters have called on her to resign, shelve the bill permanently and apologize for police using tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday. They have also demanded all charges be dropped against anyone arrested.

In an interview with HK01 on Monday, her top adviser Bernard Chan said no chief executive would dare reintroduce the bill now.

“Everyone has forgotten what she has done. I hope people can give her another chance,” he said.

The violent crowd control measures on Wednesday, used by police as protesters tried to storm the city’s parliament to stop the bill being debated, have proved enormously costly for Lam’s government.

Political allies — and even Beijing — distanced themselves from her as public anger mounted.

“I think she has lost any remaining credibility or legitimacy to rule in Hong Kong because of her own mishandling of this whole affair,” lawmaker Charles Mok told RTHK Radio.

The massive rallies — which come 30 years after the Tiananmen crackdown — also create a huge headache for president Xi Jinping, the most authoritarian Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

Under the 1997 handover deal signed with Britain, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep unique liberties such as freedom of speech and its hugely successful independent common law courts for 50 years.

But the huge crowds this week illustrate that many of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million inhabitants believe China is already reneging on that deal and fear further sliding freedoms as the city approaches that 2047 deadline.


Harris’ Indian heritage could boost Biden with Asian-American voters

Updated 13 August 2020

Harris’ Indian heritage could boost Biden with Asian-American voters

  • Harris, whose mother was from India and father from Jamaica, made history this week as both the first Black woman and Asian American to join a major-party US presidential ticket
  • Asian Americans are an oft-overlooked political constituency, making up less than 6% of the overall US population, but their numbers are quickly expanding in critical battleground states

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign plans to step up engagement with Asian-American voters this fall and is betting running mate Kamala Harris’ experience as the daughter of an Indian immigrant will resonate with the fastest-growing US minority population.
Harris, whose mother was from India and father from Jamaica, made history this week as both the first Black woman and Asian American to join a major-party US presidential ticket. Introducing her on Wednesday as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Biden said, “Her story is America’s story.”
Asian Americans are an oft-overlooked political constituency, making up less than 6% of the overall US population. But their numbers are quickly expanding in critical battleground states, and galvanizing their turnout could be enough to swing the outcome of November’s presidential election.
After Biden announced Harris as his running mate, Amit Jani, the campaign’s national director for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) outreach, said he saw an immediate surge of enthusiasm on social media and message boards and received calls from Asian Americans seeking to get more involved.
“Within the South Asian and Indian communities, there’s a level of excitement I haven’t seen before,” Jani said.
The Biden campaign has said it will devote part of a $280 million fall advertising blitz to AAPI outreach, including targeted buys in ethnic media.
While Asian Americans are far from monolithic and are comprised of many different ethnicities, they have supported Democrats overall in recent decades. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won AAPI voters over Republican Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll.
In states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas – all of which are closely contested ahead of this year’s presidential election, according to opinion polls – the AAPI population grew more than 40% between 2012 and 2018.
That was more than triple the pace for all residents in each state, according to data compiled by AAPI Data and the nonpartisan advocacy group APIAVote. Indian Americans represent the largest Asian-American group in each of those states.
Trump’s 2016 victory came down to fewer than 80,000 total votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where more than half a million AAPI residents live.
“These are places where the Asian-American vote might mean the difference between victory and defeat,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at the University of California-Riverside and the founder of AAPI Data, said of the various swing states.
In an effort to win support from Indian-American voters, Trump hosted a 50,000-person “Howdy Modi” rally in Texas with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year. Modi returned the favor in February, organizing a 110,000-attendee rally for Trump in India.
Advocates said Harris’ background as a daughter of immigrants would resonate with Asian Americans of all ethnicities, given that two-thirds of the AAPI population are first-generation immigrants.
Harris described on Wednesday how her parents came from different parts of the world to the United States seeking opportunity and bonded over their commitment to justice.
“What brought them together was the civil rights movement,” she said.
That movement led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended racial immigration quotas and opened the country to Indians and other immigrants, noted Neil Makhija, the executive director of IMPACT, which recruits and supports Indian-American candidates.
“She ties together all of our national threads in a way that no other public figure has ever done,” he said.
Varun Nikore, president of AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC that backs Asian-American candidates, said Asian-American voters were turned off by Trump’s attempt to blame China over the coronavirus – including his use of racially charged terms like “China virus” and “kung flu.”
The pandemic has seen a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, with more than 2,300 incidents from March 19 to July 15, according to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council.
A Trump campaign spokesman, Ken Farnaso, said it has held more than 500 events geared toward Asian Americans since 2017, including events where immigrants or their relatives share stories about their escapes from socialist or communist regimes.
“With President Trump at the helm, the Asian Pacific American community can be confident they have the best advocate in the White House,” Farnaso added.
Historically, Republicans and Democrats have put little effort toward reaching Asian-American voters. Nikore said lower turnout convinced campaigns not to invest many resources, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also complicating engagement: None of the major AAPI populations share a common language.
“You really need to have multiple campaign plans, one for every ethnicity that exists,” Nikore said.
The Biden campaign is hosting numerous AAPI events, including the launch of the Wisconsin AAPIs for Biden effort on Thursday and an Indian independence event on Saturday.
This fall, the campaign will have phone banks dedicated to specific ethnicities and staffed with callers who speak the appropriate language, Jani said.
Harris’ elevation to the ticket comes as more Asian-Americans run for office than ever before.
There have been a record 99 Asian-American candidates for federal office in 2020, compared with 48 in 2018, according to research by the nonprofit Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. This year’s examples include Sara Gideon, the Democratic Senate candidate in Maine, whose father is Indian.
Studies have shown that more Asian-American candidates leads to higher political participation among the community’s voters.
“It’s hard to overstate how important this is for people like me,” said Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian American running for Congress as a Democrat in a competitive Texas district near Houston. “Growing up as the son of an Indian immigrant, I didn’t see other faces that looked like mine, especially in positions of power.”