Thu, Sep 22, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Outsider Hong Kong lawmaker vows shake-up of vested middlemen interests

AP, HONG KONG

The death threats began arriving soon after pro-democracy candidate and environmentalist Eddie Chu won a stunning Hong Kong legislative election victory earlier this month.

Middlemen — Chu will not name them so as to not jeopardize a police investigation — outlined the assassin’s recruitment, what he would be paid and when the hit would come.

Chu, whose shoestring budget campaign won more votes than any other candidate in the Sept. 4 election, says the threats stem from his campaign promise to smash collusion between the government, real-estate developers, “triad” criminal syndicates and rural kingpins who benefit from suburban redevelopment projects at the expense of ordinary villagers.

“All of these people are working with the Beijing government to destroy the rural areas of Hong Kong,” Chu said in an interview at an outdoor cafe at the city government headquarters complex.

Two plainclothes police officers kept watch nearby.

A former British colony that now is a specially administered territory under Chinese rule, Hong Kong is best known for its neon-lit skyscrapers, but beyond Kowloon’s fringe of rugged peaks lie the New Territories: 86 percent of the territory’s land area.

Powerful vested interests supported by Beijing control the vast swath of farmland and old villages outside the space-starved city’s downtown core. Increasingly, such areas are being razed to make way for new public housing estates to accommodate an expanding population.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the territory has remained mostly peaceful and calm, despite massive, non-violent pro-democracy protests two years ago.

After the threats, Chu moved his family out of their home and sought police protection while he prepares for his new role as a lawmaker in Hong Kong’s semi-democratic Legislative Council.

“It’s not a bad thing to face this kind of challenge just after the election,” he said in an interview. “It’s a very good reminder to me and my team that we are stepping into a dangerous area.”

The son of a tailor and a bus-ticket seller, Chu had a “typical city boy” upbringing, he says.

After studying English literature at the Chinese University of Hong Kong he worked for the independent newspaper Ming Pao.

Eventually he quit and moved to Iran, where he learned Farsi and wrote freelance articles from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After returning to Hong Kong, Chu began campaigning for environmental and heritage preservation. He fought government plans to demolish the historic Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, chaining himself together with other activists in an eventually futile attempt to stop the wrecking crews.

In 2010, he and other activists tried but failed to stop the government from flattening a village to make way for a high-speed rail line connecting Hong Kong with mainland China.

Chu’s grassroots campaign for the Legislative Council, with hand-painted banners, struck a chord with residents frustrated that the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella movement” protests failed to yield concessions from Beijing. He and five other activists won seats in the 70-seat legislature.

“It’s the first time people have felt some kind of hope in a politician who can bring ideas developed in the Umbrella movement into real practice,” said Samson Yuen, who lectures on politics at the Open University of Hong Kong.

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