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Hong Kong democracy activist says the US must recognize China's threat to its values

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden hosted the first Summit for Democracy this week, and one of the speakers was Nathan Law, an early leader in Hong Kong's democratic movement struggling for autonomy from mainland China. Mr. Law told the conference...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NATHAN LAW: We must leverage all we have to ensure that the democracy's revival is our top priority. Maybe some of you are afraid of upsetting General Secretary Xi. Maybe some of you don't want to lose the Chinese market. Maybe some of you don't recognize the threat to our democratic values. And that is the reason why we failed.

SIMON: Nathan Law joins us now from New York City. Mr. Law, thanks so much for being with us.

LAW: Well, thanks for the invitation.

SIMON: Do you feel that democracies around the world, including the one in which we are both now - and I, you know - and United Kingdom in Europe, are slow to support democracy because of China's vast wealth and power?

LAW: We've been seeing, too, that case of democratic recession. All of the international human rights organizations that are monitoring democracy says that. So it's important for us to understand why we have come to this stage. And for me, I've lived through all this political persecution in Hong Kong. I've lost my seat in the parliament. I was jailed because of my peaceful participation in rallies. These are definitely examples of how a rise of authoritarianism could erode a city's freedom. And also, when it - when you take it into a global stage, it's definitely endangering our democratic values and contributing to that democratic recession.

SIMON: Well, you made a reference in the clip we just heard. He said, maybe some of you don't want to lose the Chinese market. How do you meet the argument we've heard from some American corporate and government leaders and in the West generally that if we don't do business with China, and a lot of it, we lose all of our leverage?

LAW: It's important that we, on this stage, do not be intimidated by China's narrative. They're basically saying that if you want to do business in China, you have to shut up about the human rights violation in mainland China. And that is one of the core reasons why we have lost our moral appeal and legitimacy. For example, in 2019, back then, the general manager of the NBA team Rockets, Morey, he tweeted about supporting Hong Kong.

SIMON: Yeah.

LAW: But he later on had to retract that and said that he basically made a mistake, just because China says that if you continue to do it, then they will boycott NBA, and you will lose a ton of fortune. And these kind of behaviors, it's just silencing U.S. citizen in - on a U.S. platform in the U.S. And...

SIMON: Yeah.

LAW: ...It's definitely using economic might to silence us. And that's why, for now, there are so few criticism over the Chinese Communist Party's human right violation. And I think that situation has to change.

SIMON: Well, what about the response that China sometimes makes that the U.S., the U.K. and Europe have their own human rights violations and they have no standing to criticize China?

LAW: Well, of course, we do all have our problems. But the world is not bipolar. It is not like if we criticize China, we fully embrace the West or if we criticize the West, we fully embrace China. But for me, it is important for us to sustain a critical point and speak it from a political - like, persecuted individual and to criticize the human rights violation in mainland China and in Hong Kong because I personally lived through that. The democratic recession, for me, is a painful personal story.

SIMON: May I ask - we've got about half a minute left - how do you feel when the Chinese government says you are forgetting your roots?

LAW: For me, my roots is in Hong Kong. What I am doing is for the freedom and democracy for Hong Kong. Hong Kong people - they stand out, and they - more than 2 million, more than a quarter of the population marched in 2019. And I think that's their opinion, and that's what they want.

SIMON: Nathan Law, Hong Kong democracy activist. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

LAW: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.