HONG KONG—Joshua Wong Chi Fung, Nathan Law Kwun Chung, and Alex Chow Yong Kang. These three young men were nominated in early February for the Nobel Peace Prize by Republican lawmakers—including Sen. Marco Rubio, who heads the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Their names elicit tides of mixed emotions in Hong Kong. They command some respect: The young men were critical figures of the 2014 Umbrella Movement that involved a 79-day takeover of key roads and public squares in the city, when pro-democracy citizens of Hong Kong set up temporary camps in an unprecedented protest. The three are perpetual figures in the city’s news cycles as fallout from the clearing of Umbrella is still unfolding over three years later.
However, by nominating the trio for the Nobel, Republican politicians inadvertently played into Beijing’s hands.
It is a knee-jerk reaction for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to deride dissent as the consequence of “foreign interference.” Hong Kong’s top political leader in 2014 laid the blame for street occupations at the feet of “external forces,” suggesting that the West was behind reactions against disintegrating freedoms. When American officials make symbolic gestures of support in such a public manner, they are casting a shadow over a homegrown resistance movement, wrangling the core beliefs of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp for their own agenda of making it into the headlines. To the supporters of the CCP, this nomination confirms that the instigators in Hong Kong are indeed backed by Western powers (albeit inefficiently).
Meanwhile, three young men in Hong Kong are being thrown under the bus, and an entire campaign to take back some measure of self-determination is incrementally discredited—just as Beijing wants it.
Wong, Law, and Chow were tried in Hong Kong last year and sentenced to jail terms that lasted from six to eight months, making them the city’s first prisoners of conscience. Wong, who is 21 years old—the youngest of the three, and the most recognized among them due to his outspokenness and a portraitshot by James Nachtwey that appeared on the cover of Time magazine—received a second prison sentence for three months after being convicted of contempt of court. Right before the hearing, Chow said, “Room for resistance is shrinking.”
Chinese state media outlet Global Times immediately branded the American lawmakers’ move as “ludicrous,” but Beijing isn’t worried about the nomination picking up steam and moving forward. The supporters of Wong, Law, and Chow in Hong Kong aren’t holding their breaths either.