TOKYO -- While Hong Kong citizens take to the streets protesting against a controversial extradition law, a prominent pro-democracy activist from the city is in Tokyo to raise awareness on events in her hometown and appeal for support from abroad.
"The three major battlefields are on the streets of Hong Kong, in the Legislative Council and the international community," Agnes Chow Ting, referring to Legco, Hong Kong's parliament, told the Nikkei Asian Review on Thursday. She has commissioned herself to take on the third battlefield, while acknowledging her movement's uphill battle against the Hong Kong government.
After an estimated 1 million people marched in Hong Kong on Sunday to voice their opposition for the proposed legislation, firmly backed by Beijing, Chow traveled overnight to Tokyo to communicate with academics, students, media and, hopefully, politicians.
The 22-year-old activist, who is fluent -- and self-taught -- in Japanese, has grabbed the hearts and minds her of audiences in Japan. Local activists organized a protest at the Hong Kong government's representative office on Thursday to show their solidarity with defending freedom in the Chinese territory.
Chow, a founding member of Hong Kong political group Demosisto, acknowledges that the outlook for her cause is bleak. "Hong Kong will be over if the bill really gets passed."
The proposed legislation would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China, with which Hong Kong currently does not have an extradition treaty. Opponents of the bill say the law could be used to send anyone that Beijing deems a threat -- including political opponents -- to China for prosecution. Debate on the bill was postponed this week amid widespread protests, but the Hong Kong government insists it will move ahead with its passage.
Among three possible outcomes on the legislation -- the Hong Kong government forcing through the current bill, making amendments before its passage, or backing down and shelving the bill -- Chow admitted that the government is expected to push the bill through before lawmakers' summer recess in mid-July. A majority of Legco's seats are controlled by pro-Beijing lawmakers, most of whom were not popularly elected under the territory's electoral system. "If voted today, it will be passed," Chow said.
Chow and other opponents of the bill say that all of Hong Kong's advantages, including basic human rights, free speech and access to fair trials, "will disappear."
"Even though political suppression from the Hong Kong government and Beijing is becoming more serious, at least we are sent to jails in Hong Kong," she said. "But after the bill is passed, we will be sent to mainland China." That could include Joshua Wong Chi-fung, another founder of Demosisto, who is now imprisoned in Hong Kong for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
Chow sees a stark difference between the Occupy Central protests, which gripped the city for 79 days in 2014, and the current demonstrations. Five years ago, people "believed in hope," said Chow, who participated in the earlier protests. The Umbrella Movement, as it was also called, was "a fight for democracy," she said, and aimed at winning universal suffrage for Hong Kong people to elect their own leader. But now, a million people gathered on the streets "full of desperation."
Many Hong Kongers believe "this law to be very, very, very dangerous," effectively eradicating the final line separating Hong Kong and mainland China under the "one country, two systems" framework that guarantees a "high degree of autonomy," according to the Sino-British treaty. Chow says that it will be "one country, one system" once the bill is passed, as "it will allow Chinese laws to be enforced in Hong Kong."
Professor Ken Suzuki, a specialist on Chinese law who invited Chow to speak in his classroom at Meiji University on Wednesday, emphasized her point. "Hong Kong people know that the Chinese system does not make people who live under the system happy," he said.
Suzuki, a longtime observer of the region, also is alarmed by developments on the ground, after Hong Kong police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. "Things seem to be a bit dangerous," he said, alluding to the peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 that turned deadly, as China intensifies control over Hong Kong.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Wednesday dismissed a rumor that the People's Liberation Army, which has a station in Hong Kong, could be mobilized for the first time since the 1997 handover. The Hong Kong police on Thursday said it will not seek help from the PLA.
Human Rights Watch has voiced "concern" over the "unnecessary or excessive force against the protesters" by Hong Kong police, Sophie Richardson, China director of the New York-based organization, said in a statement. "Hong Kong authorities shouldn't use unlawful force to suppress peaceful protests," she said. "The authorities should recognize Hong Kong's legal obligations to allow people to make their views known through peaceful protests."
Chow also expressed worry over the escalation of events this week. "Now that police have actually fired [rubber bullets], not to the feet but aiming at people's heads, demonstrators have a sense that taking part in demonstrations could mean death," she said. "I am sure everyone was reminded of the Tiananmen incident."
Regardless of the outcome of the proposed extradition bill, Chow said she will continue fighting for "what I think is right for Hong Kong" -- that is, human rights, democracy and freedom.
But she still is not able to fully come to terms with what she describes as the deterioration of those values. "How come Hong Kong has turned into a place like this? This is very sad."