Beijing Rebukes U.S. Congressmen for Nominating Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Leaders for Nobel Peace Prize

The Chinese Foreign Ministry rebuked a U.S. congressional group on February 2 after it nominated Hong Kong pro-democracy activists for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Foreign Ministry maintained that Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s domestic concerns and warned against any foreign intervention, suggesting the United States “should do more things that are conducive to the development of China-U.S. ties, and not the opposite.”

On January 31, the twelve-person congressional group, known for its criticism of China, nominated Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow—the leaders of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014—for the Nobel Peace Prize. According to the letter of nomination, the group wishes to recognize the three activists’ “peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self-determination to Hong Kong and protect the autonomy and freedom guaranteed Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

They were also praised for their “civic courage, extraordinary leadership and an unwavering commitment to a free and prosperous Hong Kong that upholds the rule of law, political freedoms and human rights.”

This is the first nomination of Hong Kongers for the Nobel Peace Prize. If selected, Wong would become the second-youngest Nobel laureate at age 21, behind Pakistani activist Mala Yousafzai, who received the prize at the age of 17.

“I believe the nomination would show the international community and President Xi how the young generation will persist in fighting for democracy, even if we have to face imprisonment or a permanent ban from public office,” Wong tweeted in response to the nomination.

However, Legislator Starry Lee, the leader of the largest pro-establishment party in Hong Kong, called the nomination “incomprehensible” and said that pro-democracy movement was not peaceful and “did not achieve any progress in democracy.”

“The nomination could create more obstacles in Hong Kong’s progress towards democracy, because it could reinforce Beijing’s perception that foreign forces were involved in the Occupy movement,” said Legislator Priscilla Leung from the Business and Professionals Alliance.

Wong, Law, and Chow were the leading activists of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” in which tens of thousands of pro-democracy Hong Kongers demanded a democratic election of the city’s leader and more autonomy from Beijing. The movement ended after 79 days and failed to achieve its goals, as Beijing and the Hong Kong government refused to give in to popular demands. While Beijing had offered a democratic election to Hong Kong citizens to choose their next leader, it also insisted on screening the candidates for their political views. Many pro-democracy activists saw this as a threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy and thus rejected this proposal.

In 2017, Wong, Law, and Chow were handed prison terms of six to eight months for storming the government headquarters compound during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. They were also banned from public office for five years. Pro-democracy activists see the sentence and the ban as an attempt by the pro-Beijing government to crack down on the pro-democracy movements. Three years after the end of the Umbrella Movement, tensions between pro-democracy activists and the pro-Beijing establishment remain high in Hong Kong.