Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2020/12/29 - 14:41

Efforts made abroad are cheap Movement should be localized — Exile Sunny Cheung’s resistance imagination

The National Security Law tramples on Hong Kong, and panic prevails. In the past few months, words like ‘emigration’, ‘exile’, ‘political asylum’ filled the headlines. Democrats and protestors of different positions in the political spectrum swarmed away from Hong Kong.

Police repression, social gathering ban, sense of defenselessness, all brought the resistance movement in Hong Kong to an impasse. The resignation of all pro-democracy lawmakers has made the legislative front futureless. The international front looks like a driftwood to catch in despair; every time news about the US sanctioning Chinese and Hong Kong officials will ignite the almost extinguished spark of hope in some Hongkongers.

Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, ex-spokesman of Network DIPLO who was active in international lobbying, decided to leave Hong Kong in August this year for a life of exile. In his video interview with Stand News, he is candid about his loneliness and struggling, as if ‘transcending between Hell and Earth’.


Being abroad, he keeps on working on the international front, but he is also frank about its limitation. ‘We are not bringing an army back [to Hong Kong].’ A democratic resistance movement needs to be localized.

‘Outside Hong Kong, many efforts become cheap.’ In view of the prevailing gloom and outrages in political reality, he urges Hongkongers to bear hope in darkness and turn this hope into a strong force of resistance.

15 September 2020, Sunny Cheung wrote on Facebook and declared that due to security reason he has left Hong Kong, with this picture of him standing in front of Victoria Harbour.


Exile since August, with his whereabouts remaining a secret

It was Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, both under the control of Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, which first disclosed the news of Cheung’s exile. Sometimes he was said to be in exile in Britain, and sometimes flee to Taiwan.

In September this year, in a FB post Cheung declared to have left Hong Kong due to ‘security consideration’. He wrote, ‘I fought with my comrades-in-arms along the line of international lobbying, and knew for long that I would one day fall victim to this storm. However, the rumor [of me setting up an exile LegCo] lets me know that I will face high risks and cannot safely return to Hong Kong in the near future.’

Having been an exile for some time, Cheung's whereabouts has never made known. Through the video interview with Stand News, he said he would not disclose his location due to security consideration.

‘Run now or never’

On June 30, 2020, the NPC Standing Committee endorsed the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which stipulated that requesting foreign sanctions on Hong Kong or China would constitute a crime of ‘collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.’

Cheung understood that his work on the international front would probably invite ‘settling old scores later’. However, at that moment he still wanted to stay in Hong Kong. ‘It is necessary to let Hongkongers see that there are still people resisting right here rather than all fleeing away…. I believe it is useful for more politicians [staying in Hong Kong] to tell people not to fear.’

He also worried that fleeing away from Hong Kong would make it difficult to connect with Hongkongers, if not slowly becoming a stranger to his homeland. ‘Once left, we will have difficulty in staying connected with the territory…. The longer we stay away, the less we will be familiar with it, and more biased our observations will be.’

In August, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Next Digital Limited, and Agnes Chow Ting, ex-member of Demosistō, were arrested under the National Security Law. He began to feel huge pressures in his daily life, being tailed everywhere with pictures of him secretly taken, always with suspected cops of burly build with close-cropped hair in sight. His family and his girlfriend were also followed and harassed.

‘Run now or never,’ he thought.

After discussing with his comrades-in-arms, he made up his mind to leave, despite sad reluctance.

10 August 2020, Agnes Chow was arrested

10 August 2020, Agnes Chow was arrested

Local efforts come primary and international lobbying secondary

In the months away from Hong Kong, Cheung never stopped his work in international lobbying. He attended forums at Cambridge and Oxford to talk about the National Security Law and the twelve Hongkongers detained in China. In a forum joined by US congressmen, he urged all to stay on alert for infiltration from the Chinese communists. In interviews by foreign media, he responded to his old comrade-in-arms Joshua Wong Chee-fung’s remand. And public letters, signature petitions, connecting Thai protesters, etc.

When the resistance movement is at its low ebb in Hong Kong, many Hongkongers put high hope on international lobbying. US presidential election and congress acts are of unprecedented concern to Hong Kong protestors. Any announcement of new sanctions against China and Hong Kong will cheer up Hong Kong netizens with celebrations.

The international front seems to be a new hope for Hong Kong’s democracy movement. However, can the democratic resistance movement be conducted outside Hong Kong, with its success depending purely on the international front? In the 19th century, through Zionism, Jews made strong international lobbying efforts that finally restored the Jewish people in their historic homeland. What can Hongkongers learn from this classic example?

Cheung stressed that without common religious bonds Hongkongers are by nature different from Jews. ‘Unless we are all Jews, we still need to focus on our land [for resistance]…. Local efforts come primary and international lobbying secondary.’

He was frank with the limitations of the international front. ‘No matter how able we (overseas Hongkongers) are, how many people we get in touch and how many things we can make real, we are not bringing an army back home.’

As the resistance movement has receded with unending repression, what will be the prospect of international lobbying? Cheung, being abroad but emphasizing the importance of ‘local efforts’, was not willing to comment. It would be against political ethics if he kept on pointing his fingers at the local resistance movement, he said.

International Front 2.0

However, Cheung thought that those who work for the international front need not belittle themselves. Besides seeking international sanctions, it is more important to maintain a sense of unity and identity among Hongkongers local and abroad.

He saw some brothers in exile with psychological trauma, fearing to reach out. ‘How to help those who left Hong Kong as a result of this movement to walk out from the shadow and trauma? It is important to connect with the local governments and civil organizations for financial support so that they can continue with their study and have access to counselling service.’

Under the shadow of the National Security Law, Hongkongers’ freedom of speech is under threat, and the number of taboos increases every day. Cheung urged overseas Hongkongers to publish about Hong Kong’s language, culture and writings and spread them worldwide, ‘to make a nation’. As Confucius said, ‘When the rites are lost, seek them throughout the countryside.’ Soft power of Hong Kong – music, movie, popular culture, etc. – may take root in foreign soil, and revive in Hong Kong in due course.

At the moment Cheung has not joined any overseas Hongkonger organizations. He smilingly said he was not eager to ‘get involved’, but mentioned that he planned to study international relations in the US. He hoped that he could help ‘liberate’ the academia and think tanks, conceptually cutting Hong Kong off from China in the academic community, so that discourses about Hong Kong will be no longer made using the China framework. ‘In the long run the Western world will change its views towards China and Hong Kong.’

Politics (international lobbying), culture, academics – this trinity is what Cheung calls ‘International Front 2.0’. It does not simply seek international sanctions, but also connecting overseas Hongkongers and running cultural activities of all kinds.

Sunny Cheung

Sunny Cheung

Too cheap to say cheers

Talking about his exile’s life, Cheung forced a smile and said, ‘it’s just like transcending between Hell and Earth.’

He missed the time of setting street booths during elections in Hong Kong. In contrast to dealing with high-rank politicians in international lobbying now, he was at that time really getting in touch with Hongkongers, chatting with passers-by, and enjoying snacks from supporters. ‘Interacting with the people, talking to them closely, are what I treasure.’

While he is now abroad and safe, his comrades-in-arms being arrested one after another make him feel guilty and struggling. ‘Was it a correct decision to leave Hong Kong? Have I abandoned my comrades-in-arms?’ Upheavals in Hong Kong sadden him. ‘Lonely exile. No more connection with people in Hong Kong. As a stranger, everything needs to start from scratch.’

‘Every day I need to remind myself not to indulge in sadness. I need to become stronger.’

Asked if he had any words for the brothers in Hong Kong, he wanted to say ‘cheers and take care’, but held his tongue on second thought.

‘As a matter of fact, efforts we make abroad are always cheap. We can only play the role of supporter. We talk about solidarity and support, cheering up brothers and sisters, and asking them to take care, but except talking we can do nothing else…’ He advised Hongkongers that ‘despite the feebleness, gloom and absurdity of reality, [Hongkongers] still choose to be hopeful. It is all because hope forms the very basis of survival and resistance. This hope is the very source of strength.’

‘During exile, I reshuffle my life, which is a process of spiritual awakening. I will hold on to my faith, and use my lifetime to defend the Hongkonger identity.’ Living abroad and bearing in heart Hong Kong his homeland – this is Cheung’s promise to Hong Kong.

Sunny Cheung

Sunny Cheung

15 September 2020, Sunny Cheung wrote on Facebook and declared that due to security reason he has left Hong Kong, with this picture of him standing in front of Victoria Harbour.