China Must Democratize Sooner or Later: An Interview with Former Democratic Party Leader Albert Ho


Protests in Hong Kong have been lasting for 15 consecutive weeks. On Sept. 4, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrawing the extradition bill, protests by Hong Kong civilians seem unending. So how can we get a grasp on this protest movement? What may be the future outcome? Liberty Web spoke with Hong Kong’s prominent democratic lawmaker Albert Ho. (Interviewer Hanako Cho)


Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced to withdraw the extradition bill. What is your take on her decision?

Ho: The decision to withdraw could have been made three months ago. It is disappointing that it took so long for Carrie Lam to come to such a simple decision after the political storm that we’ve faced for nearly three months. It took so many clashes between the police and the protesters, leading to arrests and injuries of so many people.

It’s far from being adequate to take on some important demands based on general consensus such as the setting up of an independent commission inquiry to find out the truth of what has really happened. So I can hardly expect the protesters to gradually settle down and talk with the government.


Who do you think is leading this movement?

Ho: There is no prominent leader in this movement. Of course, I have to make myself clear that I’m not the leader. Just as the protests’ slogan, “Be like water,” people just organize themselves very spontaneously through internet communication under the influence of some faceless opinion leaders. They are very mobile, fast and flexible.


How will the movement shift in the future?

Ho: Aside from setting up an independent commission inquiry, democracy is one of the five goals stipulated by the protesters. I don’t think it can be resolved short-term no matter how courageous the protesters are in confronting the police. It has to be a long-term movement.

It’s not realistic to expect that the government would give in and accept all these remaining four proposals in a short time.


What is your view on extreme protesters?

Ho: I’m going to say that the violence used on the protest cannot be compared with that of the police. The police are armed and trained to use violence. The young people use umbrellas and occasional laser beams to fight with the police. It would hurt protesters if they engage in direct confrontation.

Some young people throw petrol bombs, but only as a demonstration of anger. It’s not going to hurt anybody. Of course, I would like to see young protesters refraining themselves from using this sort of tactic. It would alienate themselves from many other protesters or supports, both locally and internationally.

I hope that young protesters will take care of their own personal safety and treasure their own freedom. And I hope that they will go back to the old way of conducting the campaign in a peaceful and nonviolent manner.


Over 1400 people have been arrested.

Ho: My legal firm has been rendering legal assistance to many protesters, and we are very skeptical about the police’s motivation in charging some activists and protesters with rioting.

A charge of riot can carry up to a 10-year prison sentence so it’s very serious. I don’t think just the presence of these young people in a scene or participation in the protest would necessarily lend support to a charge of riot.


Do you think the Hong Kong people will continue to protest until their four other demands are fulfilled?

Ho: Yes, of course. But if there are further concession, some may choose to sit down and talk. The benefit of having an independent commission inquiry is that it would offer younger people the chance to think that they should sit down and engage in the process of inquiry. This may be an effective way for them to ventilate their grievances since there has never been a sincere dialogue.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam has ruled an independent commission inquiry out quite bluntly. She said in a closed-door meeting that it is still strongly objected from the police. But how can you let the police decide on this issue when they themselves are the subject of the investigation? There is blatant conflict of interest on the part of the police.


Do you think there is a possibility of intervention and suppression by the People’s Liberation Army like what happened in Tiananmen Square?

Ho: They don’t need to come. There is already a garrison of PLA in Hong Kong, some dressed like civilians, and they don’t need armies to keep this place under control. It’s already under control.

But even with that, you cannot change the mind of the Hong Kong people. The government still doesn’t understand that they are continuing to lose all the support of the young generation.

They will fight until the four other demands are heard. Many young people, the reason why they are so touching and moving is that they already made certain wills stating their wishes. They have made testaments stating their last words. They’re prepared to sacrifice and die.

I’m going to stay here with the Hong Kong people. I think an overwhelming majority of the people cannot afford to leave Hong Kong and to me, Hong Kong has always been a home. I love this place. I’m attached to this place and I’m going to die here.


What is the final goal of this movement?

Ho: What they want is a true realization of one country, two systems. To that end, it is necessary to have democratization of our political system and a universal suffrage to elect the chief executive and all legislators.

Currently, Hong Kong people are not free to stand for election as a candidate, and all candidates have to be approved by the nomination committee which is controlled by Beijing. So that is a fake election. We don’t want a fake election nor a forced legitimacy. That is something we cannot accept.


If universal suffrage becomes a reality, it would be a huge setback for Xi Jinping.

Ho: That is one argument raised by the conservative people saying that it is unrealistic.

But first of all, I always believe that even China itself has to change in the long term. Without political reform, I don’t think China could really be a modern country and sustain long-term peace and prosperity. It has to be a genuine democracy with checks and balances, the rule of law and respect of human rights.

There has to be a paradigm change in the thinking of the Chinese leaders. Don’t presume that the world would stand still. I have been in the movement for over three decades, yet I’ve seen many surprises in the last two months. The world is going to change, not only in Hong Kong. It may happen in China. It may happen all over the world.


You’re such a great believer in democracy. Is there anything you hope for from Japan?

Ho: I think Japan should let the Beijing leaders understand that the success of Hong Kong is for the large part due to the contribution of the international community.

Hong Kong is an international financial center and a cosmopolitan city. This is the product of international cooperation and effort. So everybody has a stake in Hong Kong, even the Japanese government.

China Must Democratize Sooner or Later: An Interview with Former Democratic Party Leader Albert Ho
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