Ted Hui: I should use every bit of freedom to speak up for Hong Kong
Former Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui announced earlier this month that he has switched the focus of his international lobbying to Australia after he went into exile and spent a few months in Europe. He said the experiences on the street during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protest was a big turning point in his political career and he is prepared to play a more important role in Australia.
Question: Can you share a little bit about how you decided to go into exile and whether you ran into any trouble along the way?
Ted Hui: I think it was around July 2020 when Beijing forcibly passed the national security law. At the time, I thought maybe in the future, I would have to leave Hong Kong to continue my advocacy on Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy. I realized that there might be serious persecution against opposition figures.
I didn’t think about the idea too seriously at the time. But around November 2020, I thought about the idea of leaving Hong Kong seriously. It was around that time when Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, and Agnes Chow were going to jail. I could see more political prosecution against dissidents and I knew it would become the norm sooner than people imagined. So in the second half of November 2020, I decided to leave Hong Kong.
I had a routine of traveling to other countries and talking about climate change and environmental issues. I had arranged the official visit to Denmark around August and September 2020, but at the time, I didn’t have the determination that it was my opportunity to leave. I thought about it as my routine, but having in mind that if I decide to leave, it’s a chance and I would decide at that time.
Question: Unlike most of the activists who went into exile, you didn’t sever ties with family. Instead, you try to arrange their departure from Hong Kong as well. How difficult was the whole process?
Ted Hui: My whole family had been under surveillance for over six months even before I left Hong Kong. We were followed by strangers and stalkers almost on a daily basis. My family and I felt that our personal safety was compromised. That’s one of the reasons why they all left with me.
The other reason is that I knew more serious persecution was coming, and it would involve not only me but also my family. I knew it would happen because it happened in the Chinese Communist Party’s history. Dissidents’ families were also targeted. I don’t want my family to be in Hong Kong like hostages, and I felt that I could more openly challenge the Chinese Communist Party if my family members were safe.
Question: After you got to the UK, how long did it take you to decide that it’s better for you to switch your focus to another country that also has a sizable amount of Hong Kong immigrants?
Ted Hui: It didn’t take me long to make that decision. I spent some time talking to Nathan Law and other exiled Hong Kongers. I realized that they were quite organized and there were more Hong Kongers in exile than I thought there were. I also took a few months to meet with British and European parliamentarians.
I thought I have done enough in Europe. With Nathan and other Hong Kongers in the UK, I feel more comfortable leaving Europe and doing international advocacy on other continents. They gave me the confidence to do international lobbying elsewhere.
Of course, I still struggled, as I know places like London or Manchester will be where Hong Kongers will be in the future. I spent quite some time with frontline protesters and knew that they have not given up. They were getting themselves organized to fight back. It will be good if I stay and fight with them.
As I look to Australia, where there is also a huge Hong Kong community, there aren’t any high-profile political figures or more known people doing full-time advocacy work in Australia. I feel I’m more needed there and I feel responsible to fill the gap.
Question: You used to be viewed by many as a moderate democrat that focuses on doing things rather than being in the public to make a lot of statements. Now that you have to become a leading figure in a country like Australia to continue the international lobbying work for Hong Kong, do you have to adopt a very different mentality?
Ted Hui: It’s my style to not be too high-profile as I just want to get the things done. I feel like I’m adopting a newer position, and it’s like playing a forward role in a football match. I would be taking the lead position, but I don’t mind. I feel like I have a lot of allies around me and I receive a lot of support from Hong Konger organizations.
They have been connecting me to influential people in Australia so I don’t mind changing my roles as long as we get the things done. That’s what I think.
Question: 2019 seemed to be a turning point for your political career, as you were often seen on the frontline, trying to de-escalate the tension between protesters and the police. How do those experiences influence you over the last few years?
Ted Hui: At the time, I didn’t think too much. I felt like it’s something I need to do and I did it almost out of my instinct. As a Hong Konger, I felt like I would be on the street anyway, so as a legislator, I felt responsible to be out in the front as I had more protection. I thought I would get more camera attention and the police wouldn’t just beat me up or arrest me too arbitrarily.
It’s also a fulfilling experience for me. I feel like the moments I spent with protesters on the streets were the most fulfilling, because I felt most powerful as a representative of the people. For other times when I had to stand up and speak in the chambers and make beautiful statements, I felt like I was endorsing a rotten system.
I struggle to see whether it’s meaningful or it’s going to change anything. The time I spent in the streets makes me feel powerful because people’s spirits are high and I could actually feel their power. If I look back to my time as a legislator, those are the most memorable and valuable moments I had.
These moments influenced me because I feel like those people are my comrades and even though I’m no longer holding any public office now, I still feel like I’m part of the campaign.
Question: Having witnessed the detention of many of your former colleagues in Hong Kong over the last few weeks, what are your thoughts about the ongoing crackdown against the opposition in Hong Kong? How does it perhaps affect your international campaign in Australia?
Ted Hui: That was a very painful experience. Witnessing how they were suffering and thrown into jails, I think many of them didn’t expect such a crackdown coming so soon. Quite many of them are respected colleagues from my point of view, and it’s painful that I can’t be with them now. I could have been one of them and we could have suffered together.
I’m now in quarantine and 14 days is already hard enough. However, I think about the fact that I still have the freedom to communicate with the outside world, whereas my former colleagues suddenly have nothing. I feel like since I can’t suffer with them, I feel greater responsibilities on my shoulder.
I feel like I shouldn’t waste any moment of my freedom at all. I said during Sunday’s press conferences that I shouldn’t be sleeping on the bed of roses and I should use every moment I have on international advocacy.
Question: Following the electoral overhaul that was passed by China’s National People’s Congress last week, many experts said Hong Kong is entering a long period of authoritarian rule under Beijing. How will you advise Hong Kong people if they want to survive and prevent themselves from being jailed?
Ted Hui: I think Hong Kong’s situation will continue to deteriorate and it might be only at the early stage of that. I think the worst will be yet to come. A question that has been troubling many Hong Kongers including myself is what else can we do and what should we do to fight against Beijing’s encroachment.
There is no easy answer but I’ll say that now it’ll be unwise to give our heads to the regime, as anyone could be easily thrown into jail if they do so. As things deteriorate in different aspects of life in Hong Kong, it’s important for any individual to keep their fire in their hearts. I think now we should spend time on civil society and nurture the soil of democracy, keeping records of what’s happening and sharing the records and feelings among individuals.
Don’t let fear overcome them and keep the fire in their hearts and keep the spirits high. Don’t let fear overcome us and wait for opportunities. If we do it collectively, I believe we can defend the little pieces of our individual freedoms and collectively it becomes the freedom of all Hong Kong people.
We won’t be so easily brainwashed or defeated spiritually. It will keep our spirits high and we will wait for an opportunity to rise again.
DW: There have been some discussions among overseas Hong Kongers about how Taiwan’s decades-long experience in fighting for democracy can maybe become an inspiration for the Hong Kong people. What are your thoughts on that analogy?
Ted Hui: I think Taiwan has done well in preserving the culture throughout the pro-democracy movement, and it’s reflected through their literature and civil society. They have developed the identity of Taiwanese being Taiwanese. I believe these are things that Hong Kongers can follow-suit.
I see more and more people are concerned about Hong Kong’s local culture. People now have deeper feelings and analyses about pop songs in Cantonese. Local Hong Kong movies are also now at the center of young people’s discussions. I think this is one form of localism on the rise and I believe that the Taiwanese people have gone through similar stages during the martial law era.
Question: What would be some of the most important tasks for you once you settle down in Australia?
Ted Hui: Firstly, I get more media attention than I originally expected, but I think it’s a good thing as I have more channels to talk about Hong Kong’s stories overseas and the reason why I’m in Australia. I will be doing a lot more interviews.
Secondly, I have been in touch with many Hong Kongers in Australia, and we have discussed strategies and submitted materials to the Australian parliament and government. We have also laid down plans on how to support Hong Kongers in Australia and how we can lobby for more government schemes supporting those who need to flee from Hong Kong.
It’s important for us to be organized and become an even greater stakeholder in Australia so politicians and government officials will listen to us. I have also been making appointments to meet with parliamentarians from the district level to the national level. That might be my chance to have dialogues with the government.
Before that, we need to prepare our arguments and what the Australian government can do internationally. This will include passing the Global Magnitsky Act in Australia and put up sanctions against officials in Hong Kong and Beijing.
This interview was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.