In an April 2015 interview with the UK-based journal New Left Review, Joshua Wong criticized Civic Passion’s advocacy for radical action, such as rewriting the Hong Kong Basic Law, as “impractical”.
When asked how strong the sentiment in favour of independence for Hong Kong was at the time, Wong replied, “It's increasing. But it's not a serious prospect. There is no international support for it. The demand poses as being very radical, but it's superficial and will fade.” When asked about Scholarism’s goals at the time after Moral and National Education was dropped by the Hong Kong government, he stated, “The curriculum was withdrawn, but it was clear that the project behind it—spreading the influence of the CCP in Hong Kong through business, media, education—hadn't been. If we didn't take action, it would come back. To stop that, we needed direct elections to the Legislative Council and the right of all citizens to nominate candidates for the post of Chief Executive. So we organized around these two demands.” (New Left Review 92, March-April 2015, Scholarism on the March)
On June 14 of that year, Dr. Wan Chin wrote an article for the New York Times, in which he publicly called for constitutional reform and an amendment to the Basic Law, in order to abolish the time-limited clauses in relation to Hong Kong’s autonomy. Two days later, Joshua Wong also proposed amendments to the Basic Law during his speech at the “Hong Kong Citizens Reject False Universal Suffrage Movement” rally.
During the rally, Wong coined the phrase “the post-political-reform era”. In two months after his interview in the New Left Review, Hong Kong went from “direct elections to the Legislative Council and the right of all citizens to nominate candidates for the post of Chief Executive to stop the influence of the CCP in Hong Kong” – Wong’s own words regarding the direction Scholarism would take – to “the post-political-reform era”, or the implication that talks of political reform was outdated. In Wong’s speech, he said that the citizenry and the Pan-Democrats should fight for the opportunity for Basic Law reform, the use of referendum as a means for constitutional reform, and the chance at so-called “self-determination”.
Just two months prior, Wong was claiming that Hong Kong independence was “superficial” and “not a serious prospect”. Yet two months later he began to advocate for “self-determination”, or Hong Kong’s self-determination on its future. If discussions were to be opened up regarding self-determination, wouldn’t it be impossible not to include the idea of Hong Kong independence in the discussion? Then how come this time around Joshua Wong did not criticize the idea of Hong Kong independence as “not serious” and “going to fade”, as he did in his interview in New Left Review only two months before? How come this time he did not call for eliminating Hong Kong independence from the proposal of self-determination, nor did he explain why a referendum would be feasible at this time?
In his New York Times article, Dr. Wan Chin described Hong Kong as having “de-facto sovereignty”. During the rally held two days after Dr. Chin’s article was published, however, Joshua Wong used the word “privileges” to describe Hong Kongers’ natural rights and Hong Kong’s position as a de-facto sovereign outlined in the Basic Law, as he claimed that these “privileges” exist in name only. By saying so, Wong had completely disregarded the fact that Hong Kong had already been exercising its constitutional rights of a de-facto sovereignty, such as having its own currency, or having its own international treaties with other countries.
This speech by Joshua Wong marked the first time the “Self-Determination faction” tested the waters, and their attempt to set the agenda in order for these “student leaders” to “wrestle the baton away” from the conventional Pan-Democrats, who had been seen as the traditional “leader” of the democratic movement. Nevertheless, from Wong’s claim that the rights protected by the Hong Kong Basic Law are “privileges” bestowed to the Hong Kong people that exist in name only, it is clear that the “Self-Determination faction” subscribes to the idea of “interim constitution” and longs for the erosion of Hong Kong’s constitutional rule. They do not believe that Hong Kong has a constitution. Simply on the basis of the several attempts by China’s National People’s Congress to reinterpret Basic Law as well as the few shortcomings of the Basic Law, they have taken the position to completely deny the existence of Hong Kong’s constitutional rule, to claim that the Hong Kong Basic Law exists in name only, and to call Hong Kongers’ status a “privilege” i.e. an exception. They then turned this into justification for all their fanfare, snares, rallies, marches and the so-called referendums. For a group of politicians who do not believe that Hong Kong is under constitutional rule and claim that the Basic Law is in all but name to turn around to urge for “constitutional reform”, isn’t that the most hilarious?
The fact of the matter is that Hong Kong is under constitutional rule; the shortcomings lie in the time-limited nature of the constitution, and the need for constitutional amendments. Hong Kong’s status as a de facto sovereignty stems from its indomitable triumph over its struggles in the past 170 years. It stands the test of time, and is exactly the essence of Wan Chin’s City-State Theory. Yet according to Joshua Wong, this is merely a “privilege”.