Wanted Hong Kong activist worries about their safety and seeks asylum in the US

Anna Kwok, a Hong Kong activist based in Washington, believes that the Hong Kong police’s imposition of a reward for her capture has highlighted the importance of her application for political asylum at a time when tensions between the United States and China are rising.
The Hong Kong native, who left the region in early 2020, is a member of a small group of international activists who are speaking out against human rights abuses in the global financial center in the wake of a national security measure enforced by China.

FILE PHOTO: Anna Kwok, 26, a Washington D.C. based Hong Kong activist, who has been designated by the Hong Kong police as a fugitive with a $1 million dollar bounty offered for her arrest, is photographed during an interview at the Reuters bureau in Washington, DC, U.S., July 10, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

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Kwok and seven other overseas activists, including those who are currently living in Australia, Britain, and the U.S., were the targets of increased pressure last week from Hong Kong police, who issued arrest warrants for them for alleged national security violations and offered rewards of HK$1 million ($127,656) for each capture.

The 26-year-old Kwok spoke on the phone from her Washington, D.C., apartment. “It’s something that I’m still mentally digesting within me,” she said.

She declared that despite her concerns for her personal safety in light of the substantial price on her head, she will keep advocating for Hong Kong issues before lawmakers and U.S. officials. In recent discussions with American authorities, she brought up these issues.

She added, “We are looking for ways to make sure I can be safe in the United States and I’m also continuing to speak to other civil society partners who do have resources and experience dealing with and protecting dissidents from dictatorship regimes.”

UNCERTAINTY IN ASYLUM

Kwok claimed that the warrants proved what she had long suspected—namely, that leaving the country would be impossible because doing so would almost certainly result in arrest. She hadn’t seen her family in more than three years.

Two years after applying, Kwok’s request for political asylum in the United States is still pending.

“There’s a little bit of anxiety because you never know what may happen,” she remarked, referring to the remote possibility that they will reject her application.

Kwok admits that she has struggled with despair on occasion over the past few years as friends back home have been imprisoned and as Hong Kong has lost its prominence in the world. She occasionally does yoga or plays video games to relieve the stress caused by working long hours and most weekends.

It’s up to us to tell the story of Hong Kong because local movements there are vanishing or being stifled, according to Kwok. Hong Kong is not simply about violations of human rights; it is also about the Chinese government’s growth of authoritarianism.

When Hong Kong switched from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it enjoyed a separate and independent court system from China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement. Hong Kong was formerly regarded as a stronghold of freedoms on China’s doorstep.

Most of the democratic opposition has been imprisoned or exiled after the national security law’s installation in 2020. Democratic candidates for legislative and local elections are now effectively disqualified thanks to electoral reform.

Authorities in Hong Kong claim that the security law has brought about stability and that the eight “absconders,” including Kwok, are still posing a threat to national security by, among other things, pressing other countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong.

Kwok’s organization, The Hong Kong Democracy Council, also carries out research, including maintaining a database on more than 1,500 “political prisoners” in Hong Kong, in addition to lobbying efforts and forming partnerships with activists, NGOs, and the overseas Hong Kong diaspora in the nation’s capital.

A recent report also detailed the political and lobbying activities of the Hong Kong government, including through its U.S.-based trade offices, to advance China’s interests at a time of growing geopolitical tensions between the two superpowers.

Kwok said from her condominium in Washington, “I do see myself staying here for the foreseeable future.”

There will be a competition between Beijing and Washington, D.C. And I sincerely hope that we can contribute to making D.C. the leader in the field or the one who rules the dance with China.