The people of Hong Kong have won the 2019 John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service, providing a boost for the city’s struggle for greater democracy at a delicate time in US-China relations.
Two pro-democracy figures, former lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing and activist Figo Chan Ho-wun of Civil Human Rights Front, will accept the honour on Saturday on behalf of all Hongkongers.
The US Congress earlier this week passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will introduce stringent monitoring and possible sanctions against individuals found to be diminishing the city’s freedoms.
President Donald Trump has yet to give a clear indication on whether he will sign the act into law.
Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator McCain who died in 2018, said: “I hope this tribute to those who are struggling for their rights in Hong Kong will encourage more people around the world to raise their voices in support of their cause, especially in my country’s government. They are fighting for something larger than themselves.”
She has also commended the US Congress for passing the act with a nearly unanimous vote and urged the president to sign it into law.
The second annual award will be presented at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada on Saturday, or about 10pm Saturday on Hong Kong time. Cindy McCain serves as a board member of the forum, which had been supported by her husband.
Peter Van Praagh, the president of the forum, on Friday said the forum would be the first international organisation to recognise the people of Hong Kong for the current protest movement.
“Of course, there will be some – perhaps many – who criticise or even attack us for commending individuals who stand for freedom, who take risks for freedom, who demand freedom,” Van Praagh in his opening address.
Also attending the forum were Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser to President Trump, and Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defence.
Lau, a former chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, said she was thankful for the international support, which some view as a direct challenge to Beijing.
“Everybody knows this is a David-vs-Goliath struggle,” Laus said. “And that’s why they so admired the Hong Kong peoples’ courage and will to fight for something everyone in the forum shares: freedom, rule of law, democracy, human rights and personal safety.”
She continued: “Many Hong Kong people will be thankful for the prize and that the US and Canada choose to stand behind Hong Kong.”
Speaking at a session of the Halifax forum, Lau emphasised that most people in Hong Kong were not fighting for independence, but only striving for greater democracy and defending the freedoms they already enjoy.
“Most of us are not fighting for independence, don’t let the Chinese government misinform you,” she said. “What we are fighting for is for China to keep the promise in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the 1997 Basic Law, that Hong Kong can continue to enjoy a capitalist system, our rule of law and our personal safety for 50 years, until 2047.”
Lau pointed out that Western countries have investments and citizens in Hong Kong that justify their concern for the city.
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