It’s lovely to meet you both, Incite is really grateful for you both giving us your time and answering our questions.
Lin Fei-Fan, what made you choose to study in England at LSE?
Lin Fei-Fan: Actually, I have to say that studying abroad is one of my dreams. However, after the Sunflower movement I’m quite hesitant about my future. Am I going to directly join a political party or am I going to try and gain some distance from politics or political parties, and should I learn something more? Eventually I decided to study abroad and so the UK is a good place for people to get together and join people from all over the world, not only for a lot of social activists but also professionals.
You were part of such an internationally significant protest movement, so what advice do you have for students wanting to get politically active?
Lin Fei-Fan: Wow, I think the contexts are quite different. In Europe and the UK, I think even in Asia and South East Asia, the social context is very, very different. In Western states, people of our generation are united in facing similar challenges, in particular an increasing need for healthcare reform and a lack of future employment opportunities, whilst issues surrounding labour rights and multiple housing crises demand immediate attention. I think we’re kind of entering a period or era where capitalism has become the problem of our generation, wherein the damaging impact of globalisation must be resolved. There is further significant democratic deficits in many worldwide governments, perhaps not so much in the UK, but especially in East Asia where there seems to be a retrograde to authoritarianism. I think the UK still probably has a very effective democracy system but East Asia – in Hong Kong, in South-East Asia or in Taiwan – there’s a definite retrograde.
There’s a kind of apathy and hopelessness among young people in the UK. There has been a recent increase in young people involved in politics, but do you think there’s any lessons that we can learn from the Wild Lily movement and the Sunflower movement?
Lin Fei-Fan: Yeah, I think those movements are actually a showcase about how the young generation can really change some of the old political atmosphere. There is significant opportunity for young people to really make a difference, be it from activism to electoral participation. Even in a lot of East Asian countries, more and more young people are realising that actually we can really change something. We cannot always directly have a successful result after this kind of participation but in the long term, you can see from Taiwan’s case, that the Wild Lily movement was actually a milestone for a student movement because we have a successful example and we can learn from that. Student movements, even 20 years after can still learn from their experience.
Talking about young people in politics, Edward – what made you decide to run for election?
Edward Tin-Kei Leung: That was because of the umbrella movement I think. In terms of our goal, we failed. In terms of achieving the political reform of democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, we failed. And also, because during the protests I witnessed a lot of violence, brutality of the police. I saw my classmates being beaten up by the police, insulted by the police as the “trash of society” but they are the students of Hong Kong. I saw the blood on their faces and I couldn’t forget those scenarios, so I decided that I had to be an activist and carry on and I had to speak up as a young person in Hong Kong. So, I ran for office and I represent our own new Hong Kong political party but not the old traditional pro-democracy parties. We wanted to do it ourselves.
Considering the violent unrest, why did you feel it was important to participate in what the Hong Kong government called a ‘riot’?
Edward Tin-Kei Leung: It’s a tough question. I would say, after the Umbrella Movement – after those 79 days, our lens of seeing the world and Hong Kong is quite different from the ordinary citizens in Hong Kong. We were sort of in a war situation against the government. We desperately wanted to achieve democracy by whatever means we had and during the time it was appropriate maybe for us to defend ourselves in that so-called riot. At first it wasn’t supposed to be a riot. It was just a festival, we were enjoying our traditional Hong Kong food in the Lunar New Year, but suddenly a troop of police came in and they announced that the festival was an illegal assembly and they were going to disperse all of us. After the Umbrella/Occupy Movement, the anger had been accumulated already. At that point of time, the so-called riot was inevitable. I can’t speak about my reasons for participating until my trial next year. All in all, we just didn’t want to back down anymore because we did once and we achieved nothing.
Let’s move on to Taiwan. Lin Fei-Fan, how do you feel having witnessed the negative effects of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China?
Lin Fei-Fan: I think it’s quite similar to Hong Kong’s situation. Actually, from a Taiwanese perspective, we were signing the agreements just like Hong Kong signed CEPA, [Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement] – the economic framework agreement with China so it’s quite worrying that Taiwan is going through the same steps as Hong Kong did. We have to notice that China had become our second biggest trading partner at that time, so the whole economic system is quite reliant on China’s economy, it’s like over 70%. We were not only worried about economic independence but also democratic institutions. You can see that in the past 8 years, when the KMT government [Nationalist Party of China] were trying to sign the agreement with men in China, they were trying to use the police force to secure these kinds of negotiations to make it run more smoothly. From 2008 to 2010, when we signed ECFA, and also 2013 the CSSTA [Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement], you can see along the whole path: every time they try to negotiate with China they block Taiwan’s political liberty, to suppress people to prevent the people from protesting on these kinds of negotiations. The costs of signing this agreement, this kind of economic framework agreement, are actually beyond the economy. It also hurt our democracy. In the CSSTA, you can see that the KMT government, the President Ma Ying-jeou, actually tried to fire the legislative speaker through inter-party disciplinary and through this it’s become a constitutional crisis. What we can learn from those cases, having this kind of economic agreement with men in China, the costs are beyond the benefits.
How do you feel about current Taiwan – China relations? Can there ever be some kind of reconciliation?
Lin Fei-Fan: I think China has never given up on so-called unification with Taiwan, they’re always thinking about taking control over Taiwan. If China gave up that ambition… For a lot of Taiwanese people, it’s hard. Even though a lot of Taiwanese people are willing to develop ‘normalised relations’ with China, if CCP don’t show that they are willing, it’s hard for Taiwanese people to move forward. I believe the current situation is not made by Taiwan, the current controversy and dispute is actually made by China.
President Trump is obviously on a tour of Asia right now, and is due to meet President Xi Jinping today. What are your hopes for future US – China relations? How do you think things will progress between the two Presidents?
Edward Tin-Kei Leung: I would say they are two closely related nations, more than ever before. Any slight change in their relationship would mean a shock to the world, because these are the two main superpowers of the world right now. It’s very hard to predict what will happen, given that the so-called ‘rocket man’ in North Korea is launching rockets. It’s very hard to predict and it’s very hard to demand anything from these two countries if we want to change the domestic politics in Hong Kong, even though Hong Kong is actually a window for these two countries to gaze through at each other.
Lin Fei-Fan: I think Taiwan has been made a pawn – a bargaining chip – for China and the US for a very long time. You can see that after Trump got elected, people kind of worried about whether he would do more things in favour of Taiwan but actually not. A lot of policy that he conducts is actually still playing the same game; they’re using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to request demands in other negotiations in different sectors. For Taiwanese people the situation currently is really worrying, because Trump and China actually share a lot of similar values. They’re kind of promoting authoritarian, non-democratic values. At this moment, we’re really worried Trump will sell Taiwan to buy a different relationship or some kind of cooperation with China in the future. We can see that today or tomorrow when they talk about arms sales to Taiwan, and whether the US still stands by the Taiwan Relations Act. I mean, Congress just passed a Taiwan Travel Act so that Taiwanese officials can visit the US. But on China’s side, China has always had ambitions to take over Taiwan and Taiwan’s trade. Their military action is quite provocative right now. Their aircraft is always surrounding Taiwan and their warship is also, every day, circling Taiwan, including Taiwan’s trade. So, the whole of South East Asia, I believe, is entering a very dangerous and risky moment. I believe the conflict is likely to happen in the near future, we don’t know when, but Taiwan will play a very special position. We still believe that the US still shares common values of liberty, human rights, democracy, and we still expect they can hold on their position and not change too much. Also, we have a citizen called Lee Ming-cheh, an activist now currently detained by China. He’s actually the first one to be detained from a foreign country after the CCP passed new NGO regulations, and so he’s become the first human rights activist detained by the Chinese government and unfortunately, he’s Taiwanese. But we don’t see much support from the US, the UN and other human rights commissions. I hope the US, probably not Trump, but other delegates can rise to these questions in the future.