At the age of 15, Hong Kong democracy campaigner Joshua Wong was already active in a movement opposing the use of teaching materials approved by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the former British colony's schools. When he helped launch Hong Kong's Occupy Central protest—later called the Umbrella Movement after student-led protesters used umbrellas to ward off police tear gas and pepper spray—he was still only 17. Speaking to RFA in an interview, Wong, now 18, says that the 79-day protest that brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets at its height isn't over yet.
Q: How would you describe the past 17 years in Hong Kong, since the 1997 handover to China?
A: We were promised a high degree of autonomy—one country, two systems—with Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong. But in the past 17 years we have seen that the promises that our way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years were all empty. It was a dream, but it hasn't been the reality. We have seen the space for freedom of expression shrink, and continual interference with the freedom of the press.
The central government has said that we will have universal suffrage in the 2017 elections. Originally we were supposed to have universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, but that has been delayed now until 2017. Now, they have said they will give us one person, one vote, but we still don't have the right to nominate candidates. This isn't genuine universal suffrage.
Q: Many citizens in mainland China and Hong Kong weren't supportive of the Umbrella Movement. Why not?
A: There is a small proportion of people in Hong Kong who are genuinely supportive of the central government's electoral reform package. They can't see why it's a problem that we can't nominate candidates. They say that the general public doesn't take part in the primaries in the U.S. presidential elections, either.
But the movement still enjoys broad support in Hong Kong. Otherwise, why would the government have let it go on for more than 70 days? Why didn't they move in to clear the occupied areas in the first month?
There are also people who were critical of the Umbrella Movement itself, because this was the first time Hong Kong has fully experienced an Occupy movement, and it was even bigger than the Occupy Wall Street movement. A lot of people couldn't fully understand the point of view of citizens who were protesting.
Q: What do you think of the central government's attitude to the Umbrella Movement?
A: The central government has taken a hard-line stance towards the Umbrella Movement, and it has persecuted anyone who supports it. In mainland China, more than 100 people were detained or kept under surveillance for supporting us.
There wasn't much they could do within Hong Kong's borders, but we have found that the majority of the students who took part in the Umbrella Movement are now unable to travel to mainland China.
We don't want to see people from Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement come to the same end as the mainland's own pro-democracy activists, 20 or 30 years from now.
Last year, I went traveling in Taiwan with some of my fellow students after we finished the college entrance exam. At the time, we were followed while we were in Taiwan by some people who told us they were sent by the central government. They checked out the hotel we were staying in, and the times of our return flights.
Q: Will there be a resurgence of the Umbrella Movement in 2015?
A: Given that the Aug. 31 decision of the National People's Congress tells us that we can't have public nominations, only the right to vote, I think we will definitely see more large-scale citizen protests in 2015, or more Occupy movements.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.