By Harry Wu
[NOTE: China Brief offers occasional interviews with prominent individuals contributing to our understanding of Greater China. Hongda “Harry” Wu is one of the most prominent advocates for democracy and greater respect for human rights in China. For his beliefs he suffered nineteen years in China’s Laogai prison system, to be allowed into exile in the United States in 1985, but to never cease his advocacy for the Chinese people. This interview, granted to a Jamestown Foundation staff member, followed his expulsion from Hong Kong on March 4, 2002.]
Q. Did your expulsion from Hong Kong come as a surprise to you?
A. Not really, neither when I was detained at the Hong Kong airport nor when eventually refused entry to the territory. I fully understood that my decision to travel to Hong Kong entailed the possibility, indeed the risk, that Chinese authorities could grab me once again, as they had before [in 1995]. But that time, I was traveling in China for the direct purpose of investigating human rights abuses. When I left the United States I came only with the intention of visiting Hong Kong. I had no intention of going to the Mainland. The visit was for personal reasons. I had no political agenda. I therefore retained hope that this time would be different, that the Hong Kong authorities would extend the same courtesy to me that they would to any other American citizen passing through the Special Administrative Region.
Q. What was your reaction to the expulsion?
A. I knew there was a risk, so the detention and subsequent expulsion did not surprise me, but I was disappointed. But it is not a disappointment for me personally. My work will continue, whether I am able to enter Hong Kong or not. My family and my businesses are in America, that is what is important to me. I am back now with my wife and my son. Business at my two organizations, The Laogai Research Foundation and the China Information Center, runs smoothly. This will not affect me personally. I am disappointed for Hong Kong.
Q. What implications does your expulsion hold for the future freedoms in Hong Kong?
A. If the Hong Kong authorities can expel me from the region, what else waits down the road under such a system? It should not be surprising to the international community that the people of Hong Kong are frustrated with their leaders, that they protest that the leaders represent Beijing’s interests rather than Hong Kong’s. Like the people, I do not trust Tung Chee-Hwa [Hong Kong’s current leader]. After his recent re-election, Hong Kong residents felt cheated. They said that the election was a farce. Mr. Tung’s recent announcement of institutional changes to Hong Kong’s civil service should not come as a surprise. Digressions in levels of freedom of the press and freedom of speech are also more possible and more expected. Hong Kong will continue to deny protest permits to Falun Gong practitioners and to disperse protesting abode seekers. Perhaps in the future they will stop allowing the annual memorial gatherings for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Newspapers will continue to practice self-censorship and to fire journalists who refuse to toe the line. Perhaps Amnesty International will be denied the right to hold a press conference in Hong Kong, or perhaps their offices and the offices of so many other human rights organizations in the region will be closed.
Q. In light of your expulsion, how would you describe the current political situation in Hong Kong?
A. I am concerned. What I have just told you, all those occurrences, show that Hong Kong is no longer accountable to its people or to its system of democracy. Its leadership holds itself accountable to Beijing and to the Chinese Communist government. It is adopting Beijing’s policies, slowly perhaps, but it is adopting them. Several years ago, the mainland government labeled me a troublemaker and made it known to the world that I was not welcome in China. They have always said that. It is their policy. But now it seems that Hong Kong has adopted the policy as well. How many more policies will Hong Kong adopt from Beijing?
Q. What was the reaction in Hong Kong when the news of your expulsion appeared in the media?
A. A poll appeared in the South China Morning Post on this subject. It reported that only 28 percent of respondents agreed that Hong Kong authorities had acted properly in treating me this way and that the expulsion made no difference for Hong Kong politically. The other 72 percent said that they thought I was treated unfairly, that the action holds disconcerting implications for the future of Hong Kong.
Q. What do you think now of Beijing’s promises to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms after the 1997 handover?
A. Beijing promised a policy of ‘one country-two systems’ for Hong Kong and that for fifty years it would not change. Now, in many aspects, in the press, in the legal system and in my expulsion, we see that there have in fact been changes. The Chinese government can keep only certain of its promises to Hong Kong. When not changing will benefit the mainland, Hong Kong will not change. It will stay open to business, and leaders will be held accountable to maintain a profitable and transparent atmosphere for business. Economic development and progress will continue. There are other areas, however, that Beijing cannot tolerate, no matter where. In the political sector, Hong Kong will draw closer to the central government. This is mirrored in Beijing’s domestic politics. Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji have partnered to open up the economic sector for foreign investment and development while keeping the door shut tight for political reform. Also, Beijing has received a positive reaction from the West on these policies. So many leaders now say that the best way to work with China is through economic investment. They look at political reform only secondarily. Perhaps Beijing expects that as long as it maintains the proper atmosphere for business to flourish in Hong Kong, the international community will not protest if democracy falls by the wayside.
Q. Do you still have hope that Hong Kong will keep its freedoms?
A. Yes, just as I hoped that circumstances would be different when I undertook this most recent visit, and that the Hong Kong authorities would not have catered to the cronies in Beijing, I also still have hope that the United States and other leaders of the free world will not turn their back on democracy in Hong Kong. For many years Hong Kong stood as a small island of hope and prosperity as China forced its population through turmoil and hardship. I hope that the West will react decisively now. I hope that it will show the people of Hong Kong that someone will stand up for them and for their freedom.
Harry Hongda Wu served nineteen years in the Chinese labor camp system as a political prisoner. He was released in 1979. In 1985, he emigrated to the United States. In 1995, on entering China for more human rights research, he was arrested again, sentenced to fifteen years and expelled from the country. He now heads both the Laogai Research Foundation and the China Information Center.