This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Baggio Leung, who was elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) amid a wave of popular support for next-generation opposition candidates in 2016 and stripped of his office following a decree from Beijing, has arrived in the United States to seek political asylum after fleeing a crackdown on dissent in his home city.
Leung, who also uses the name Sixtus Leung, left Hong Kong on Nov. 29 without fanfare, buying his ticket on the day of his departure, and telling nobody about his plans beforehand — not even his family.
“I saw a lot of strange-looking people at the airport … there was a guy who was clearly not dressed for travel; he looked like a Hongkonger, middle-aged, wearing headphones,” Leung said.
Leung was able to leave after a particularly nail-biting moment going through immigration.
“I went to the automatic passport gate and tried to scan my passport but it wouldn’t let me through,” he said. “I had to go to the manned counter, where the customs officer stared at me for two or three minutes [before letting me pass].”
Leung transited through Los Angeles and arrived in Washington on Nov. 30 with considerable relief, having successfully fled a wave of arrests of democracy activists and lawmakers, some under public order legislation and some under the draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since July 1.
Severs ties with family
“I, Baggio Leung, hereby declare that I will sever all ties with my family and resign from all my posts in Youngspiration, the political party I founded,” he told RFA from Washington on Friday.
“I think it’s a lot safer for me here in Washington than in Hong Kong,” Leung said, adding that he had been repeatedly followed by unidentified individuals who hung around the entrance of his apartment block.
“I had lost the power to speak out in the climate ushered in by the national security law,” he told RFA. “Even if I had the courage to do it, [journalists] may not have been able to publish it.”
Leung has been unable to operate a bank account since his ouster four years ago — now an inconvenience shared by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam under U.S. sanctions over the national security crackdown in the city.
“I’m not as rich as her, though,” he said.
Leung said that he hopes to achieve more politically now that he has left Hong Kong.
“The political situation in Hong Kong is rapidly deteriorating, so I decided to come here to the U.S., to Washington, to see if I can promote some measures [to help Hong Kong] from here.”
Leung said he plans to act as a lobbyist to support further sanctions against the CCP over its suppression of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms.
“I hope the U.S. government will maintain its current China policy regardless of who is president,” he said. “The idea would be to force China to return to the negotiating table [over Hong Kong].”
Leung said he was also open to taking part in a Hong Kong “parliament-in-exile,” and is looking forward to spending Christmas in the U.S.
Hong Kong’s High Court ruled against Leung and fellow Youngspiration lawmaker-elect Yau Wai-ching on Nov. 15, 2016, formally barring them from taking up their seats after a high-level intervention from Beijing earlier in the same month.
Leung and Yau had both vowed allegiance to the “Hong Kong Nation” and carried banners saying “Hong Kong is not China” when making their oaths at a swearing-in ceremony in LegCo on Oct. 12.
They also used a historical slur to refer to China, with Yau inserting swear-words into her oath.
The standing committee of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), intervened with an interpretation of Hong Kong’s miniconstitution, the Basic Law, ruling that only “solemn and sincere” oaths would be accepted from public office-holders.
Four other opposition lawmakers, including Leung Kwok-hung, “Long Hair,” were ousted around the same time, paving the way for further disqualifications of candidates and lawmakers regarded as disloyal by Beijing.
The process culminated in the mass resignation of the entire pro-democracy camp last month after the NPC standing committee “disqualified” a further four pro-democracy LegCo members.
The U.S. and the U.K. have strongly criticized Beijing for repeated breaches of a 1984 treaty in which it promised that the city’s way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years following the 1997 handover, while Washington has targeted dozens of high-ranking Chinese and Hong Kong officials with economic sanctions.