Members of the Hong Kong Students Association organized a panel discussion called “The Umbrella Movement: A Discussion on Hong Kong’s Political Climate” in an effort to increase understanding and raise awareness among the student body. Former Counsel General of Hong Kong, Stephen Young ’73 participated in the panel last Wednesday alongside Chair of the College of East Asian Studies Stephen Angle and Visiting Assistant Professor of Government,Dennis Weng. The College of East Asian Studies, Pangea, and Wesleyan World Wednesdays also sponsored the event.
Pangea Co-Chair Suet Ning Wong ’16 described the process she went through to have Young speak at the University.
“Hong Kong students decided to do a teach-in, a discussion, and we wanted teachers to come, but there wasn’t really enough notice,” Wong said. “So Pangea talked to the Office of International [Student] Affairs. Associate Dean for International Student Affairs Alice Handler told us they were interested in having someone come to speak on Hong Kong as
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part of Wesleyan World Wednesdays, so I started talking to professors to see who was interested in having a panel discussion to provide more awareness and more perspectives about what’s happing and what they think about the situation. Dr. Young was in the United States and would be interested in coming to speak on the situation.”
Hong Kong Students Association member Amy Zhang ’15 expressed her eagerness to hear from Dr. Young and learn his perspective on the events unfolding in Hong Kong.
“This is an amazing opportunity to hear about Hong Kong’s political climate from an American diplomat who has worked in Asia for most of his life,” she said. “The reaction of the United States and Britain to the Hong Kong protests has been pretty muted and disappointing, so it will be interesting to hear a bit about why that is. I’m sure it’s quite complicated.”
Zhang also mentioned a personal connection she has with Young from before she began at the University.
“His visit is especially bittersweet for me because when I was a pre-frosh in Hong Kong, Dr. Young held the summer welcome reception at his house,” Zhang said. “So my first real Wesleyan community event was at the counsel general’s house in Hong Kong!”
Hong Kong Students Association member Kaitlin Chan ’17 spoke about how she has been pleased with the success of previous events regarding Hong Kong, recognizing that hosting a former diplomat adds a valuable voice to the larger conversation.
“I suppose that this event fills a niche that we didn’t fill with our other events,” Chan said. “Because yes, all our events are trying to increase awareness of the situation and give people an understanding of the really weird, unique political landscape of HK, which is unlike any other place. We had an open student forum, which was all of us, the young, naïve students; a lot of us are knowledgable, but we’re just students. So we had that event, then we had a documentary filmmaker come in, so that was communicating information in a really media-based, graphically and orally way.”
Chan spoke about her enthusiasm for hearing a deeper, professional perspective on the events in Hong Kong.
“We have professional academics who are way more well read and have been alive for some of the political events leading up to what has happened in HK these years,” Chan said. “They’re just a lot more knowledgeable than us. So we have Professor Weng, a Gov professor, Professor Angle, who’s an expert in all East Asian studies, and a special guest, the former general counsel of HK Dr. Stephen Young, who’s an alumnus. He’s just a really great snag; I can’t believe that he’s coming.”
Chan said she hopes students will walk away from the panel with a better understanding of how Hong Kong functions as a region in China after attending the event.
“I hope people will just start to see Hong Kong on its own,” Chan said. “Because it is an administrative special region, but a lot of people just see it as a tiny island with seven million people on the coast of Southeast Asia. But it really provides an interesting political study of how this somewhat special, separate political entity also functions under the broader umbrella of still technically, in some ways, being part of China or linked to China. Because HK is not a country, it’s a region. That situation of having this piece of land or area that is its own entity is something that I think a lot of different countries have, so I think learning about the political landscape of that and how it can better serve the needs of the people is important.”
After giving brief opening statements about their experiences in Hong Kong, the panelists responded to questions from students about whether or not Hong Kong was prepared for democracy.
“Hong Kong is totally ready for democracy,” Weng said. “Just because democracy can fail, and in a democracy you may elect a corrupt leader, does not mean democracy is not the best option.”
Young agreed, citing the importance of free elections and democracy in the region.
“I like democracy,” Young said. “No matter what comes out of the protests, we know there will be an important dialogue.”