U.S. lawmakers have nominated Joshua Wong, a university student who played a prominent role in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and other local activists for the Nobel Peace Prize in a move that risks backlash from China.
The 12 lawmakers, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R., N.J.), penned a letter to the to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in which they argued that the entire pro-democracy movement should receive the honor "in recognition of their peaceful efforts to bring political reform" to Hong Kong, where many residents have decried Beijing's increasing control, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
In the letter, the politicians praised Wong, 21, and his fellow activists for fighting for democracy despite "tremendous opposition from the Chinese Communist Party."
"Countless others around the world, including in mainland China, aspire to the same ideals but their voices are silenced and their protests forbidden," the letter said.
The nomination risks provoking a rebuke from Beijing, which insists that any issues involving Hong Kong are domestic matters because the former British colony is a special administrative region of China.
Wong, along with activists Nathan Long and Alex Chow, led pro-democracy protests in 2014 that became known as the Umbrella Movement. Thousands of citizens took to the streets seeking freer elections, but ultimately did not cause the Chinese government to grant democratic concessions.
Wong was arrested in September 2014 when he, along with a group of students, scaled a fence to gain access to a square located next to government headquarters. The arrest sparked a massive demonstration that involved thousands of protesters occupying Hong Kong's busiest streets. Police used tear gas to clear the crowds. Wong was eventually released, though he is currently ineligible for office for five years because of the sentence length resulting from a separate case for contempt of court. He is appealing both sentences.
In 2016, Wong co-founded a political party called Demosisto devoted to achieving Hong Kong's democratic self-determination.
Hong Kong remains under the "one country, two systems" principle, made before Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997. The agreement gives Hong Kong a considerable amount of autonomy, but keeps it under Beijing's ultimate authority. The U.S. House of Representatives in November passed a resolution that called on the Chinese government to stick to the "one country, two systems" policy.
The system has been mostly successful at avoiding tension between Hong Kong and Beijing, but the Chinese government has become more assertive in recent years, the Economist noted.
Hardliners treat the territory as a political threat and like to remind Hong Kong that its autonomy is delegated by China's parliament. The central government's representatives in Hong Kong have become more visible and democrats complain about ever-more-blatant attempts by China to manipulate elections.
If China does take issue with Wong's nomination, it will not be the first time it has had problems with the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010, the prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who died last year. Liu was in prison at the time, causing the award to be given to an empty chair. The Chinese government called the award "political theater" in a statement.