17-Year-Old Democracy Protester Joshua Wong Stands Up to the Government in Beijing

17-year-old student Joshua Wong (second right, wearing black) has been leading student protests for greater democracy in Hong Kong.
17-year-old student Joshua Wong (second right, wearing black) has been leading student protests for greater democracy in Hong Kong.

In his black T-shirt, shorts and flip flops, Joshua Wong could be just another Hong Kong high school student.

But the 17-year-old has fast become the bête noire of China’s state media — they have called him an extremist and a buffoon in response to his leadership of student protests demanding greater democracy in the former British colony now ruled by China.

“Students and youth have more passion and more power to be involved in this movement,” he told NBC News outside Hong’s Kong’s government buildings where he was protesting this week. “Young people expect more change and they dream to have a better political structure for the future.”

Hong Kong is now halfway through a week of student strikes — class boycotts — culminating in a planned walk-out Friday by high school students.

Wong was 14 when he founded Scholarism, which successfully led a campaign against the imposition of “national education” in Hong Kong, which critics said was little more than an effort to impose communist propaganda on schools.

This time the battle looks far tougher: against a Beijing ruling last month to impose tight restrictions on the election of the city’s leader.

When Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an arrangement called “one country, two systems,” Beijing pledged to grant the territory a “high degree of autonomy” and eventually universal voting rights.

But while Beijing has agreed to “one person, one vote” from 2017, it has imposed tight selection criteria to ensure that only communist party loyalists can be selected to lead this semi-autonomous territory.

“Every citizen should have the right to nominate a candidate for chief executive,” said Wong, who believes what is on offer will be even worse that the current system of appointment by a 1,200-strong committee stacked with Beijing yes-men.

In telling Hong Kong, in effect, take it or leave it, Beijing is assuming that this famously pragmatic money-orientated city will swallow hard and get on with life. China’s leaders often describe Hong Kong as an economic city and not a political one, and are gambling that Asia’s most important financial center stays that way.

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NBC News

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