Interview: 'We Need to Build Our Economic Foundation Overseas'

Sunny Cheung talks about his plans to contribute to an overseas democracy movement for Hong Kong.
By Carmen Wu
Interview: 'We Need to Build Our Economic Foundation Overseas' Sunny Cheung, former student leader at the University of Hong Kong, is shown in a file photo.

A former student leader during the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong is applying for political asylum in the United States after fleeing the city, where police had issued a warrant for his arrest.

Sunny Cheung, a former student union leader at the University of Hong Kong, announced on his Facebook page earlier this month that he had arrived in the U.S. after a period of time in the U.K., during which the Chinese government complained that he was "anti-China."

Cheung, who left Hong Kong on Sept. 15, 2020 without saying where he was going, recently received a master's program scholarship from The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University based in Washington.

He spoke to RFA's Cantonese Service about his hopes, fears, and plans for the future:

Life in exile is painful. I don't ask others to try to understand it, because I think people in prison have it even tougher. The fact that I am applying for political asylum shows that Hong Kong is now in an era of white terror and totalitarianism. I worried that I would start to lose my identity as a Hongkonger; also that my Hong Kong passport will expire. That's why I applied for asylum. I needed to have a sense of security, and a definite identity to settle down somewhere with, which will be helpful to anything I want to do further down the line.

Those who leave always feel guilty, but taking action can make up for it. Why was I the one who survived? Why did I leave my comrades behind? All I can do is expect a bit more of myself, to do a bit more, and to work hard on their behalf. 

I really love my home, so the homesickness has been very intense for me during the past year. I hope to channel it into motivation, in the hope of getting to get home sooner, and ending this sense of indefinite separation. That's the most important thing.

Whatever is going on in Hong Kong or Taiwan is also about geopolitical factors that affect why people might want to help us, and why we need to build a strong foundation of [international] support. 

It shows that we could become an area that is ungovernable by the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a thorn in the side of [CCP general secretary] Xi Jinping.

The fact that we can give Xi Jinping a headache shows how powerful we are. Our determination to fight for freedom and democracy makes common cause with other countries that wish to contain China. 

But we won't be able to achieve a great deal more unless all of that starts aligning, and a variety of different factors come into play at the same time.

Back home, there is less and less room for any of that to happen. Civil society groups are now looking at how to fragment, now that a lot of major organizations are disbanding, looking at the next steps for going underground. 

We need to build our economic foundation overseas. If we look at some of the most successful overseas democratic movements during the past few decades ... their success has rested on a fairly strong foundation of commercial backing and funding, not just on lobbying. [Their members] also became influential business owners and professionals.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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