US-based Asia Society accused of kowtowing to China over Hong Kong activist

Congressman says New York charity ‘has some explaining to do’ after refusal to host event featuring democracy campaigner Joshua Wong

A US congressman has accused the prominent New York-based charitable institute the Asia Society of kowtowing to China after it refused to host an event featuring the Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong.

Wong had been due to appear last week at the launch of a book published by the local chapter of writers group PEN to mark 20 years since the UK handed Hong Kong back to China.

In discussions about hosting the event, the Asia Society demanded Wong be excluded, so PEN decided instead to hold it at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

“It is a disgrace,” said US congressman Chris Smith, who co-chairs the congressional-executive commission on China. “It seems this venerable organisation is too easily abandoning its core mission and kowtowing to Beijing’s ‘red-lines’ in Hong Kong.”

China’s president, Xi Jinping, who was in Hong Kong for the anniversary, warned that the city state must not become a launchpad for challenges to Beijing’s authority, and that such activities crossed a red line.

In November the Asia Society also cancelled the screening of a documentary about a series of street protests lead by Wong in 2014.

“I will be asking questions of the Asia Society to understand whether these steps were taken because of self-censorship or under direct threats from Beijing,” Smith added. “The Asia Society has some explaining to do after two events related to Joshua Wong were cancelled over the past nine months.”

Wong was not able to attend the event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club because he had been arrested in Hong Kong.

Wong said the Asia Society’s self-censorship was eroding freedom of the press and expression. “I knew that the organisation has always had a conservative stance, but this was just a book launch,” he said. “The Asia Society needs to give a reasonable explanation.”

Jason Y Ng, an author and president of PEN Hong Kong, said: “The demand to bar Joshua Wong from speaking at our launch event goes against what PEN Hong Kong stands for, namely free speech and free expression.

“I have great difficulties explaining to Wong – or any other contributor for that matter – that he or she is good enough to write for us but not fit to speak at the book launch.”

The Asia Society, which was founded in 1956 by John D Rockefeller III, has sought to become a hub for research and analysis on Asia, and describes its mission as promoting “mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States”.

The Hong Kong branch is co-chaired by Ronnie Chan, a property tycoon and staunch supporter of the pro-Beijing former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

In an emailed statement, an Asia Society spokesman said: “Despite earnest efforts to collaborate on a program design, we were unable to come up with one that would be mutually compelling to our respective target audiences.

“While it is unfortunate that we had to let our discussions fall through this time, we remain open to opportunities to work with them in future.”

Contributor

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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