What should be done with Joshua Wong and friends
There’s an awful lot of publicity around the fact that three activists were recently sent to prison for their part in the riots in Hong Kong. Some people are angry but a much larger group, both in Hong Kong and on the Mainland are happy to see it.
The fact that the sentences were passed under the original Hong Kong Basic Law, rather than the new National Security Law (NSL) is a good thing. It means shorter sentences and proves to the world that China introduced the law to prevent future activities rather than to punish for the past. Western media will quieten down after a little bluster about so-called freedom activists and accept that what could have been very severe sentences are, in fact, quite fair.
All three are intelligent but young and impressionable. They all started their public lives as juveniles and have been manipulated into their present situation. I don’t for one minute condone the actions, inciting riots, inciting violence, even failing to condemn violence after it’s happened, are very serious matters. But what circumstances which brought them to this ignoble demise?
Imagine being a smart 15-year-old who believes strongly in the individual identity of the place you call home, but at the same time, believing the place is turning into something slightly altered from the image you had for it. As a 15-year-old, you might, like most teenagers do, create some conflict. In the same way a teenager might create an argument with a parent over some minor trifle — every parent of a teenager knows what I mean, and, if we’re honest, almost every adult has been there during their teenage years.
Now imagine that same teenager meeting a manipulative older person. This adult wouldn’t find it hard to influence the teenager into doing things they might not have considered doing. Once the teenager is caught in a problem the adult disappears. This is exactly what’s happened to these three youngsters. As High school kids they were feted by their peers, they came to the notice of people in “high places” and people in “low places”. Just over a year ago, Wong did a tour which included Germany and the USA, he signed contracts to write for German magazines and conducted a speaking tour, he even met members of the US Senate. A few weeks later Tom Cotton, America’s youngest senator visited him in Hong Kong.
It would be hard as a teenager and twenty something, not to be influenced when you’re, getting patted on the back, receiving massive funding and technology support, being taught how to lead and manage groups of people to create what your sponsors tell you will be a “better world”. It would be very easy to be manipulated into doing things that you shouldn’t do.
Then suddenly, it all comes crashing down. The money dries up, the support disappears, the agreements to write for international magazines come to nothing and you’re left facing charges and imprisonment for being the leader of a group of anarchists — all you really wanted was a few small changes in the way your life was managed. Now it’s changed completely. Where are these puppeteers now? The only support is words spoken in foreign countries. The people you thought you were working WITH, have gone and now, it seems you were working FOR them. Their strategy has failed and with that failure comes a hand washing. Your part for involvement in their protest is prison.
As Joshua, Agnes and Ivan settle down for their first, and hopefully only winter in prison they must be feeling pretty bad. But not all hope is lost.
This article comes from the point of a westerner living in China, a person who has seen that the Chinese government, despite western media claims to the contrary, actually cares about the people, it cares what the people think and what they want. China has demonstrated this in hundreds of different ways, not least of which are the poverty alleviation schemes and positive treatment of minorities within China. And now with the leniency shown to these three activists. NSL wasn’t used, the sentences were relatively short and there has been no mistreatment. These facts should tell the rest of the world that this is not a regime but a government which supports the rule of law.
China will treat them with respect but needs to point out, through education and rehabilitation that there are positive ways to change government policy, or laws that aren’t good laws. China needs these three young people, who, despite the fact that they are now convicted criminals, were, and actually still are, leaders of many young people in Hong Kong. Proper counselling and proper education are necessary. Because, rather than make martyrs of them, they can once again be leaders.
It’s easy, especially after being sentenced to a crime, to show remorse and apologise. Many people do that. But, if criminals understand and accept what was wrong with their actions, if they learn how and what they should have done in order to properly get the attention of the government, they will emerge from prison as better people.
Joshua, Ivan and Agnes are not martyrs, they are intelligent young people who have proven that they have the charisma to lead large groups of supporters and can raise enough interest as well as enough money to create a substantial movement. It should not be hard for them, using positive lessons learnt from this difficult time, to encourage their own followers to see how they’ve been manipulated and can turn this entire situation to their advantage. If Joshua, Agnes and Ivan do this right, after serving their sentences they can work with China as popular lobbyists towards common causes for the good of China, Hong Kong and all Chinese people.