China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has claimed yet another victim: The last remaining leader of the Nationalist Party, which ruled the former British colony before it became a semi-autonomous region, has died.
Myriam Lee Chong, 58, also known as Andy Lee, had been ill with cancer for more than two years, and she died in hospital on Wednesday. Lee had been leading the All-Party Union of Democratic Students (APUD), a student group that fought on behalf of the Hong Kong government in the early 1990s and then lobbied as pro-Beijing lawmakers to push for more rights.
Lee became head of the group in 2014 after incumbent legislator Maria Chin gave up her post following years of criticism for her advocacy of the territorial demands of China’s ruling Communist Party. Lee led the APUD through both the successful referendum campaign to ensure the permanent status of Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous territory and the recent protests demanding full democracy. The group managed to push its cause after organizing and leading demonstrations.
Lee, however, was also criticized for her lax views on the use of force against protesters.
“She was born into the Nationalist Party,” Carl Chiang, a political columnist and author of the book, “The Art of the Northern Assault,” told The Washington Post. “Everyone and his mother is a nationalist. She saw it as patriotic duty. She did not show any mercy to them, and when they demanded more human rights it brought her a bit of discredit.”
There has long been concern among the Hong Kong community that Lee’s death will fuel political tensions. The Hong Kong government’s hard-line stance against Beijing and the wave of deadly protests started in 2014 that left nearly 100 people dead have had a negative impact on the city, causing voters to distance themselves from the political elite who failed to safeguard Hong Kong’s democratic systems from encroachment by China.
Chiang said he expects that the opposition to Lee’s death to grow after the APUD organized a protest early on Wednesday after news of her death spread.
“The small opposition will be isolated, as that’s what the Nationalist Party is trying to do. It won’t even want to take part in the election campaign, and that will have a negative effect on the future of Hong Kong,” Chiang said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the city’s chief of police and the secretary for public security will join a memorial ceremony on Friday. Lee’s body will then be flown to Taiwan for burial on Saturday.
The APUD was a political side to Lee’s pedagogy, but her health problems resulted in her very public withdrawal from political campaigning in recent years. She had opened a career as a journalist before she turned her attention to politics, as well as the links between Hong Kong society and Taiwan.
But her political agenda was very much in line with her personal journey: a recognition that she had taken the wrong path as she moved away from her conservative upbringing in suburban Taiwan to pursue a career in journalism.
“We will miss her spirit,” James Teo, the executive director of the China Centre for Communicating Happiness at Charles University in Taiwan, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Lee ran for a seat in the Legislative Council in 2014 and was arrested during the demonstrations after police used batons and pepper spray against her and other protesters. She was subsequently sentenced to 28 days in prison.
After Lee’s conviction, her former principal assistant and a leading scholar in civil liberties at the National Taiwan University of China, Law Wang, cited the former student leader’s example in the student activism of that time to argue that the United States could better influence Beijing to respect individual rights in Hong Kong.
“Everyone should learn from Andy Lee about democracy because she made a concerted effort to prove that we can make it against all odds,” law professor Law Wang said.