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Hong Kong activist works to keep protesters on the minds of Nova Scotians

Joshua Wong has been organizing public events in Halifax and writing opinion pieces about the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong has been organizing public events in Halifax and writing opinion pieces about the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. - Ryan Taplin
HALIFAX, N.S. —

To a casual observer, there appears to be no end in sight after more than six months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. To one more invested onlooker in Nova Scotia, things are evolving.

“I think this movement will continue to go on, but on a smaller scale,” Joshua Wong, 24, said during an interview.

“I don’t think protests in the global community will continue to be a thing. It’s time to turn it into something that works and actually do something practical to protect the people of Hong Kong.”

Wong, who lives in Dartmouth, has been doing his part since August to raise awareness about the fight for rights in the territory

by organizing public events and writing opinion pieces. He has described himself as a Haligonian, Newfoundlander and Hong Konger.

The unrest that began in June in opposition to an extradition bill has grown to include broader demands.

Demonstrators have said they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that has kept some autonomy for the financial centre since China regained control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997.

Last summer, a small pro-democracy demonstration on the Halifax waterfront organized by Wong and some like-minded friends attracted the attention of a vocal pro-China contingent.

“We haven’t seen any physical harm coming our way,” said Wong.

“For the first couple of days after that event, we were being followed, our pictures were being taken, our identities being exposed. We didn’t think anything about that. “There were also a couple of (online) articles, propagandawise, about us, mainly about me. Who am I, and what am I doing?

“These are all things we did not expect. We felt bad that the moves were childish on their part but harassing, for sure. But it didn’t stop us from what we’re doing and after that, things did die out eventually.”

Wong said he felt comfortable being a representative for the movement because of where he lives.

“I think, simply because I’m Canadian, I can put my face forward that I won’t be persecuted

in this country, and I won’t be having much of a fear to continue to speak up.” Still, he said, he sometimes worries about potential personal ramifications for his stand.

“Some of the regret is that I’m thinking perhaps I might not be able to travel to Hong Kong to see my grandparents because of the way the Chinese are doing things.”

Since that summer day by the harbour, while the protests in Hong Kong have periodically flared into violent confrontations, Wong’s group has organized a documentary screening and a human chain event, as well as a small march in November.

While most rely on news reports to learn of conditions in the territory, Wong has other information channels. He said he can get advance notice of events through social media apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

“I would know things maybe a couple of hours ahead,” he said.

Wong is concerned that even supporters may suffer fatigue as the protests continue into 2020.

“This has become the norm, that people turned an abnormal situation into a normal situation,' he said. 'For example, putting violence onto the streets, on either side, it’s not normal.

“What started as a peaceful movement shouldn’t end in any way that involves bleeding, death or injuries on either side.”

Wong said he does not support violence but understands why it flares up. He is also not surprised that the Chinese government has not taken extreme action to shut down the protests.

“Directly intervening on the streets of Hong Kong, that has not been their (practice),' he said.

“If they actually directly intervene, so goes their entire claim of ‘one country, two systems.’ Hence, I don’t think China would ever do that.

“What I think we’ve been seeing is Beijing, through different channels, suggesting the Hong Kong government do whatever it can to quiet the people down.

“This is not a war, after all. This is a protest.”

Wong, who set up a Hong Kong student association at Memorial University in St. John’s in 2016, is taking a break from pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy and working two jobs. “I think one-third of my time has been dedicated to this (movement),' he said. 'We sacrifice our own time, money, sweat into this. My happiness comes from helping people voice their concerns.”

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