Quartz Reporter Mary Hui on Hong Kong’s future: Cultural Revolution 2.0 and the role of Big Tech| Hope in Crisis
This is the transcript of Hope in Crisis, a podcast series about rights and democracy and how technology enable or disable it. In this episode we will learn about how democracy is dismantling under the combination of authoritarian and big tech companies, and most importantly, how Hong Konger and the rest of the world can see hope in this crisis.
About Mary Hui
Mary is a reporter at Quartz based in Hong Kong, where she covers geopolitics, tech, and business. She previously worked as a freelance journalist, covering political, socioeconomic, cultural, and urban issues. Since last June, Mary started to cover the first hand news from Hong Kong.
See Mary’s work here: https://qz.com/author/marykmhui/
Listen to Hope in Crisis
Introduction of the episode
Sean Moss-Pultz 0:20
So today we’re going to talk with Mary Hui, I think, all right. It’s always hard for me to pronounce names that are like, it looks like it should be Chinese, but she’s gonna pronounce it Cantonese. Right? Oh, yeah. It’s always tricky. Okay.
Renee Yeh 0:33
Names are always hard.
Sean Moss-Pultz 0:34
They are. So she’s a reporter at courts, and does some freelancing for Washington Post. Post is an interesting that’s Bezos’ newspaper. Trump calls it fake news.
Renee Yeh 0:49
Sean Moss-Pultz 0:50
You got it. And she does trail running. Which we’ll see. Maybe we’ll get to ask her about that. And, it seems to me at least, that she’s really interested in geopolitics, tech, big data, of the intersection of the stuff that we care about.
Renee Yeh 1:12
And civil rights.
Sean Moss-Pultz 1:14
Renee Yeh 1:15
She wrote about graffitis being removed on google map. So, in Hong Kong, people made graffitis about democracy and freedom. And then these photos were all blurred or removed on Google Maps. So she wrote one piece about it. And then there’s also a movement in Thailand going on right now. And she wrote about how people are not trusting Twitter. So they’re using crypto social instead.
Sean Moss-Pultz 1:42
It’s been around for a long time. It’s called Minds. And it seemed like the first day that there was that Twitter thing in Thailand, like 100,000 people switch to it and it crashed.
Renee Yeh 1:55
Oh, wow. That’s huge. So pressure leads to innovation.
Sean Moss-Pultz 2:02
Renee Yeh 2:04
Right. So, do you have any interesting questions for her?
Sean Moss-Pultz 2:09
Well, I think let’s talk with her about this idea of cultural revolution. 2.0 It seems very central to her.
Renee Yeh 2:15
Sean Moss-Pultz 2:16
And then, of course, let’s get some of her insights on the role of tech. I hope to get insights of both big tech as an American big tech, but also China big tech.
Renee Yeh 2:29
Yeah, I look forward to talking to her, because what she’s doing is very similar with what we’re doing. She’s using English, the language, as a medium to spread messages. And then to help more people understand what’s going on in Asia.
Entering the interview!
Renee Yeh 2:51
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to hope in crisis. We’re really excited today to have our first remote session with Mary. Welcome to the show. So Mary, would you like to introduce yourself to us and the audience, talk about how you started your journalist life and why you started covering these features about Hong Kong’s movement and technologies?
Mary Hui 3:18
Yeah. So yeah, my name is Mary Hui. I’m a reporter for Quartz. I’m from Hong Kong and based in Hong Kong, and I’ve been with Quartz now, for a year and a half since April of last year. And from Hong Kong, we cover kind of broadly the Asian region at the intersection of geopolitics, tech, business, and how all of that fits into this larger picture of how the global economy is changing, and trying to make sense of that. And, of course, since last June, when the protests kicked off in Hong Kong, 90% of my time, or more than that of much of last year, was really just focused on the Hong Kong protests and how questions of technology and protest movements, protest tactics, language and culture, how all of that plays out through the protests.
And now that the protests are no longer kind of as much on the streets, the focus has changed shifted slightly to kind of the ramifications and the continuing changes in Hong Kong civil society. And then, in addition to that, also keeping an eye on kind of other kind of broader economic questions to do with China and its role in the world.
What’s going on on the Hong Kong Protest?
Sean Moss-Pultz 4:37
Mary, can I get you to explain this protest? And what’s going on to Western audience that has not followed closely? I mean, even myself, like I live in Taiwan, most of my time is here, but I feel like I’ve struggled to keep up with the story. So can you kind of take us from day one of the protests, like what was going on? What were the conditions that led to these protests?
Mary Hui 5:04
Yeah. So the protests that kicked off in June of 2019. It’s the latest chapter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy, Hong Kong’s democracy movement. And it was kicked off by this controversial extradition law, that would have meant that Hong Konger could be sent to mainland China as a fair trial where they are not guaranteed a fair trial. That was the proximate cause of the protests.
But over time, it morphed into just general discontent, and frustrations with how the government was handling the protests and how the government was not listening to the popular will. And also the excessive use of force by the police and in cracking down on the peaceful protesters, largely peaceful protesters. And so it just became this huge, huge political problem that really saw no kind of resolution, in large part because the Hong Kong government’s hands were tied, it really had no ultimate authority. Beijing was really the ones that was calling the shots. It was unclear how or whether they would ever budge.
It morphed into just general discontent, and frustrations with how the government was handling the protests and how the government was not listening to the popular will.
The protests carried on for months, large scale street wide protests. And now we’re in the next chapter of that, which is Beijing’s heavy handed crackdown on Hong Kong civil society, changing laws implementing new laws. For example the National Security Law that we saw come into force in late June, July first, and it’s really reshaping the entire Hong Kong society to fit into China’s total control kind of total national security where anything that pushes up against the Communist Party’s power is regarded as a threat to national security and must be put down. So now in this chapter we are seeing Hong Kong being folded into China’s authoritarian grip.
Renee Yeh 7:24
Yeah, for me, I just cannot imagine how difficult it is to have this pro-democracy movements in an authoritarian regime. I think that the two values clash. So basically an authoritarian government will not tolerate democracy because democracy means that people have the right, they have the right to decide their future, they have the right to decide who they want to authorize to run the government. So can you tell us more about the pro-democracy movement and the progress? If there’s any?
The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong
Mary Hui 8:04
Yeah, I guess at the heart of all of this is its basic contradiction. That’s really baked into the very existence of Hong Kong, since its handover from being a British colony to Chinese sovereignty, where there was this attempt to set up Hong Kong as this partially free city with guaranteed civil liberties and rights, a bill of rights even, as part of Hong Kong’s constitution that was molded in large part based on the International Covenant on human rights. I forget exactly the title. And at the same time, still have your kind of ultimate master as China where the civil liberties and rights aren’t protected.
So how do you have these two diametrically opposed systems coexisting. And for a while it did, though, it was always kind of on shaky ground. And over the years, we’ve seen China try to rein in Hong Kong a bit more, a bit more. And as you have more and more frustrations piling up, and then you have something like the extradition bill that really shook Hong Kongers and brought to their fears of everything that the authoritarian system represents in China that really kicked off. It blew the lid off of everything and then spark this mass protest movement.
The relationship between tech companies and Chinese government
Sean Moss-Pultz 9:52
And could you talk a little bit about what role are the tech companies playing? I’m really most curious about how you as a journalist see your role and the relationship to government and tech. By tech, you can either talk about sort of technology itself, or big tech, Facebook, Google’s these kind of Western tech organizations. I would also be really curious if you could share any insights about the Chinese tech companies, and are they doing anything interesting in Hong Kong?
Renee Yeh 10:27
Or blocking anything?
Mary Hui 10:29
Yeah, as we’ve seen over the past year or two, in protest movements, not just in Hong Kong, but more recently, in Thailand, in Belarus, a cross the US. Tech really has played a huge role in shaping the direction and the dynamics of popular mass protest movements. There are ways for protesters to communicate with each other to get their message out, to innovate on the spot and figure out how to change their protest tactics, how to organize themselves, what kind of posters, what kind of hashtags to use. So all of that is very much enabled by the technology platforms.
In the case of Hong Kong, the foreign tech companies find themselves sometimes in a bit of a tough and tricky situation where they want to have access to the highly lucrative market in China. But at the same time, they should stay true to kind of the liberal democratic values of the countries where they originate from. So for example, the US.
To give you a specific example, we have Apple. So last year, one protester here in Hong Kong developed this app called HongKongmap.live, which is this kind of real time dynamic crowdsource map to show where protests were happening, where police fights here, gas, deployed water cannons, there was a way for protesters, but also just non protesters, people who just want to go down the street and get something to eat, to figure out where the action is so that they can avoid tear gas. But Apple banned that app from its App Store, saying that the app was enabling criminal activity that it was enabling protesters to ambush police officers and that hence it was not to be allowed on the app store, and subsequently took it down.
So there you see a very interesting contradiction, where the app, anyone’s common understanding of this app, is that it isn’t providing you any more information than watching a live stream board. And so to say that it’s enabling criminal activity is quite farcical. But the fact that Apple had to bow down to the pressure imposed from by Beijing authorities to take the app down, really says a lot about at the position that tech companies can find themselves in when they’re trying to balance both their profit motive, and the values that they espouse.
Sean Moss-Pultz 13:19
Do you know details about that? Like, do you know if Beijing was pressuring Apple through Hong Kong law? Or were they using sort of China’s judicial system? Do you know about how that was working behind the scenes?
Yeah. And it was just depressing for me to know that a life saving app can be banned, and labeled as helping or contributing to criminal activities. And we talked about black boxes the other day in our different episode about how the entire app store is a huge black box. And then when your app is removed, there’s almost no way for you to file a complaint. But I’m thinking about roundabouts. Is there a sir any other way for people to upload this app for other people to use? Like, with Android, you have APKs, so users can download an app without going to the Play Store?
Mary Hui 14:18
Yeah, in this instance, the developer made it into a web app. And this kind of problem repeated itself later on in the year in June and July, when the opposition camp in Hong Kong held its primaries, primary elections ahead of the official elections, which would have been in September that were now delayed. So they help this unofficial primary to try and feel the strongest slate of candidates and they use this one app that was kind of distributed, designed to be resilient against any kind of cyber attack to protect privacy so that voters’ information wouldn’t easily fall into the hands of authorities. So that app was uploaded and authorized by the Google Play Store, but it never got approved by the Apple App Store. And after the unofficial primary election in Hong Kong and Beijing government came out and made it very clear that this unofficial primary election was illegal. Not exactly sure why. But they say that it’s an illegal exercise. And so one can conjecture, and theorize as to kind of what kind of pressure was put on Apple behind the scenes.
I poked around a little bit more afterwards and saw another app developed by two Europeans, that kind of served very much the same purpose, they market themselves as a way to kind of hold unofficial polls, especially in places where maybe democratic elections aren’t being held. And that app is readily available on the Apple App Store. So the question as to why this particular one in Hong Kong was not approved, I think, leads to many different questions about what kind of politics played into decision making.
Renee Yeh 16:31
I hijack your question, right. you were asking about the judicial laws?
Sean Moss-Pultz 16:37
I mean, I was just curious, like, was there any transparency into Apple’s decision to do this? Like, did they say we were complying with law? Or did they just be silent and take it down?
I’ll have the look back. So much has happened since then, I don’t remember the exact details. But I think they did quote something about them having to follow the laws of the local jurisdictions in which they operate. But I forget exactly what the detail is on which jurisdiction they were referring to.
Sean Moss-Pultz 17:13
Can you explain a little bit about this security law? So my understanding is that Hong Kong had some basic law, and there was not a security law. And during the protests, Beijing basically said, hey, go do a security law, or else we’ll do it for you. And then they created this really big thing. And I guess you have some real concerns about article 33. Can you talk a little bit about this? Like, first, what is this security law? And what was it trying to solve? What what was the issue that Hong Kong wasn’t able to have a security law?
Mary Hui 17:49
Yeah. So in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which is kind of Hong Kong’s mini constitution, one of the articles says that Hong Kong should enact its own national security legislation that has not been done over the years. In large part because of widespread opposition to it back in 2003, when half a million people came out to march against the implementation of national security law.
So you know, fast forward to 2020, China has definitely run out of patience with Hong Kong, especially in light of the months of protests that were, honestly a huge embarrassment for Beijing that these protesters were able to make international headlines all over the world. So they finally decided that now is the time to really crack down and that they had enough of protests in Hong Kong. So they implement what is called the National Security Law, where national security is defined very, very broadly by Beijing as anything that has to do with upholding and safeguarding the one party system. And so at the core of this national security laws is that very broad, vague and sweeping definition of what national security is.
So now that that is in place, it kind of technically criminalizes four sets of crimes for different crimes, subversion, secession, foreigns interference, what’s the fourth while I’m suddenly blanking? But, you know, a large set of vaguely defined activities that are so vaguely defined that really anything that Beijing doesn’t like, can be deemed to be in breach of the National Security Law and hence, land you in prison for potentially quite a large amount of time. It also enables China to directly set up a national security unit in Hong Kong, that is above and beyond existing law. They aren’t governed by local laws. They can essentially it sets up a secret police organization in Hong Kong, and they’re allowed to do whatever they please. And so kind of both those things taken together both the vague and broad definition of what the crimes are that the the heavy punishments and also the sweeping powers and now gives to police and the National Security unit and the government means that state control over people’s everyday lives has dramatically increased. And people do live in fear of what whether anything they say or do could land them in jail. And of course, Beijing frames this as good for Hong Kong as restoring stability. But if we look back at history, different political theorists have noted, particularly Hannah Arendt has noted that a lot of totalitarians dangle this this idea of stability as a way to control the populace. And I think that’s what exactly we’re seeing right now.
If we look back at history, different political theorists have noted, particularly Hannah Arendt has noted that a lot of totalitarians dangle this this idea of stability as a way to control the populace.
Renee Yeh 21:16
I think what Hong Kong is doing right now is very amazing. I think that what’s going on as a tragedy, but I think that Hong Kong is demonstrating to all of us, the entire world, that democracy is very valuable. Because I think that right now, in the very polarized social media, some people would criticize democracy and say that our democracy is very inefficient, or democracy is a messy, chaotic process. And that implies, when you have a very centralized, and a very authoritarian government, everything works better in a more efficient way. And then the government is more commanding. But the reason why I want to raise awareness about authoritarian government is because it violates some very basic human rights, like the freedom of speech, or the freedom of traveling, or the freedom of getting education or the freedom of making some positive changes to the future. So I think that Hong Kong is waking up everyone in other parts of the world, that communism is not something that can be accepted for the sake of capitalism.
Cultural Revolution 2.0
Sean Moss-Pultz 22:49
Mary, you mentioned in one of your articles, you view this as almost like a cultural revolution 2.0. Can you explain what you mean by that? And then I’m also very curious as to what is different from 1.0 to 2.0? Is like 2.0, more social is just like web 2.0.? What is it that makes it 2.0?
Yeah, what’s going on there?
Mary Hui 23:11
I’m sure while 2.0 just I guess more in reference to the fact that this has echoes of the cultural revolution that we saw in the 60s. But of course, obviously, without knowing the 60s and but it’s happening again. So I guess it refers more to kind of echoes of what we’ve previously seen happening again. And guess more concretely, it’s referring to this culture of friends or family snitching on each other and reporting each other for being in violation of the National Security Law not being patriotic enough, questioning the Communist Party’s legitimacy and credibility.
Cultural Revolution 2.0 is referring to this culture of friends or family snitching on each other and reporting each other for being in violation of the National Security Law not being patriotic enough, questioning the Communist Party’s legitimacy and credibility.
And even as recently as last week, or the week before, the police rolled out a hotline on WeChat and also just a regular phone number for people to report instances that they see in daily life where people have violated the national security law. And that kind of gets to the very heart of this hot Cultural Revolution 2.0 where there is now an official channel, and by implication official encouragement to report on people who you see violating the national security law. In my story that I did earlier this year, I talked to doctors, civil servants and, and, and teachers, about their fears of what they get up to in their daily work lives. That they now fear could land them in hot water if they accidentally say quote and quote the wrong thing or wear the wrong thing or somehow signal can have incorrect political leanings.
Renee Yeh 25:16
So, tell us more, tell all of our audience members more about the importance of cultural revolutions, the two revolutions 1.0 in 2.0, why do people in other parts of the world need to know about us and about the consequences? So in my personal experience, when I had to talk about cultural revolution, the first one in English. It is usually because people ask me about the languages used in Taiwan and China. People would ask “Are you using the same language?” And then I have to explain that we’re using the traditional Chinese characters, and they’re using the simplified Chinese characters, and then that conversation will lead to cultural revolution. For people who are received information in English, their responses was “oh, pity, sorry, that their cultures and temples and old buildings were burned”. And that’s it. That’s it.. So there, the response was like, ah, bummer, but it has nothing to do with me.
Sean Moss-Pultz 26:23
We have a history of destroying old things. I mean, this is just Western culture.
Renee Yeh 26:29
Yeah, but I think some values were destroyed, in the Cultural Revolution. Something unethical was done, and passed down. In the first Cultural Revolution. That’s my personal opinion. So tell us more about the cultural revolutions and why people need to care about it.
I think in both instances, you know, both Cultural Revolution1.0 and 2.0. You talk about values. I do agree it is. The kind of the insidious nature of what we might call the Cultural Revolution is how it really tears a part of the fabric of society by destroying trust between people. All in pursuit of this goal that’s been implemented from above, to uphold certain political goals and to root out certain elements that are deemed to deviate from that political goal. So I think, beyond just Hong Kong or China, we have seen this elsewhere in the world throughout history.
For people who might not be as familiar with Chinese history, and who might get a little tripped up on the Cultural Revolution label. I think maybe we could point them towards instances, and other authoritarian regimes where people are encouraged to rat out each other, because they want to showcase their total loyalty to the political regime over their personal relationships. So I think that’s what I’m trying to get at more than the exact what a cultural evolution 1.0 and 2.0 likes that kind of carbon copies of each other.
Sean Moss-Pultz 28:23
Mary, do you have any personal takes on what are some possible paths forward? And is there any that you feel are hopeful?
Mary Hui 28:34
Hmm, for Hong Kong?
What are the future possibilities in Hong Kong?
Sean Moss-Pultz 28:36
Yeah, sorry to ask such a dark question. But, I’d like to try to understand a bit more about how you see the future, what are some possibilities?
Mary Hui 28:49
I think it’s hard to place any kind of confidence or trust in established institutions right now. Just today, on the 11th of November, Beijing passed down this resolution that enables it effectively to expel any politician from Hong Kong’s legislature that they don’t like, and effectively allows them to take entire control over the legislature and expel or opposition. And Carrie Lam the chief executive even came out to say, “ We don’t have to be ashamed of the fact that they will no longer be on position, because we can pass bills more quickly”. So she is openly proud of having a rubber stamp parliament.
So I think the way forward is, maybe not to place any kind of trust or hope in these kinds of institutions that many people previously had looked to. And now it’s really up to civil society where through school or local businesses or families and friend groups. Small acts of daily resistance can keep people together in their fight for freedom and democracy value. And a large part of it is also to not get lost in them, these kind of day to day developments, where it’s feels like sometimes you have a constant kind of unending stream of bad news and kind of crap downs. And keeping track of those and also calling things out for what they are, and really paying a lot of attention to government rhetoric, and not becoming desensitized to the whitewashing, and the glossing over of certain facts that the government might like to put out through their propaganda or their statements.
“ I think the way forward is, maybe not to place any kind of trust or hope in these kinds of institutions that many people previously had looked to. ”
Sean Moss-Pultz 31:11
What do you think your job looks like, one year from now?
Mary Hui 31:14
One year from now? Um, well, obviously, press freedom in Hong Kong, has come under immense pressure, and is facing a lot of kind of dire threats. We have reporters getting arrested, newsrooms being raided. Newspaper owners also being arrested. None of that is good. Yeah, there is this kind of general kind of miasma over that that hangs over the press corps in Hong Kong, but at the same time, we can’t just have to keep doing what we’re doing. I guess, right now, I would say I don’t feel an acute sense of risk personally. But of course, it’s always there. And I think what we have to do is just kind of continue reporting and describing things as they are.
Renee Yeh 32:08
Do you think there’s any thing that the tech community can do to shed some light on the hope and, and facilitate your vision for yourself? You talked about civil society, and a lot of our listeners are organizing hackathons. And there are hackathons for democratic developments. There are hackathons for education or human rights.
Sean Moss-Pultz 32:39
And the G0v stuff. Is there something like G0v going on in Hong Kong?
Unknown Speaker 32:45
There is I’m not too familiar with that community. But I do know that they are active here. Yeah, it seems like it just even collating information that the government is not happy to share or in a coherent way. Taking it upon ourselves as civil society to do some of those things: to collect a database of the number of times that police fire tear gas or a number of times that they’ve broken their own kind of rules for how they should engage with protesters. Things like that, where you are collating information, and then using that to make sense of what you’re seeing and what’s happening. I think that in itself is quite powerful. And I would say that that would be something that that tech community can really help with.
Sean Moss-Pultz 33:33
What about tools? Are you seeing people like, for example, adopt Bitcoin? Any sort of censorship resistant technology? Like I know, you wrote an article about minds happening in Thailand? Do you see the people in Hong Kong, forming online communities that are helping to get more strength in numbers? Are people using Tor? Are there any technologies that you are excited by these days?
Mary Hui 34:04
Hmm, yes, yeah. VPN downloads have gone through the roof. People pay much more attention to encrypting their communications. And just generally kind of though digital security. So I think anything that kind of falls under that umbrella I’m sure people would readily embrace.
Sean Moss-Pultz 34:28
What do you think the Western world should learn from Hong Kong? Or what can the Western world learn from Hong Kong? And what could we do to help Hong Kong?
Mary Hui 34:42
Um, I think what we’ve seen throughout the protests, is how the Hong Kong protest movement this time around was able to drum up much more momentum than in years past, because it devoted energy and resources to spreading its message out to an international audience. And also working directly with foreign governments and politicians, for example, lobbying U.S. politicians to pass the Hong Kong human rights and democracy out. Or the Hong Kong people free freedom and Choice Act, that’s currently being kind of going through the process, which would allow Hong Kongers special refugee status in the US. I don’t think any of that would have been possible without kind of the grassroots diplomacy that we saw over the past year, both in the US or the UK.
As we see with the UK now, granting a path to citizenship and not just kind of be persistent national overseas holders, but also people who were eligible for that. So up to 3 million people who can eventually settle in the UK if they wish to. So things like that really show kind of the power of acknowledging kind of all these linkages of between countries and how expanding your protest movement beyond your immediate physical borders can actually help put pressure on the government that you’re ultimately protesting against.
Renee Yeh 36:37
Yeah, thank you very much for all of the information and the insight. I hope that the next time we talk, you’re in a safer place.
Sean Moss-Pultz 36:50
Thanks a lot, Mary. Really appreciate you spending time with us today.
Mary Hui 36:54
Thank you for having me. This is good to chat.
Summary (By Sean and Renee)
Renee Yeh 37:02
So how do you like the talk?
Sean Moss-Pultz 37:06
It was as I thought it was gonna be pretty depressing. Pretty heavy. Oh, very dark.
Renee Yeh 37:11
Uh huh. Yeah, I was trying to bring up hope in crisis. But it was so difficult.
Sean Moss-Pultz 37:19
Renee Yeh 37:23
Yeah and tragedies. So, ah, yeah, let’s talk about something different. Do you see hope?
Sean Moss-Pultz 37:35
I do, actually. There’s that saying Necessity is the mother of all invention. And I think that what we’re seeing is a collision of different worldviews or legal systems, our political parties. And increasingly, people will realize that we just got to come up with better ways of organizing. And so I feel that, just like COVID is driving so much online. That things like these Hong Kong protests are going to drive what we would call governance, down closer to the people. And they’ll realize that, the politicians aren’t going to solve your problems, that we need new tools, we need new ways of organizing to solve our own problems. So I think that that is the silver lining out of all of this, just like how COVID sucks and is making a mess out of the US. I think that this protest sucks, and it’s making a mess out of Hong Kong. But the people will, hopefully, people will use this to create the tools that we all need.
Renee Yeh 39:06
How about people in other places? In the rest of world.
Sean Moss-Pultz 39:11
I want to ask you this. So you’ve got this “One system, two countries?”
Renee Yeh 39:16
“ One country, two systems”. It means that Hong Kong is part of China so — one country, but two different systems.
Sean Moss-Pultz 39:25
But they say the same thing for Taiwan, right?
Renee Yeh 39:27
They want to propose that to Taiwan.
Sean Moss-Pultz 39:30
Okay. But I mean, the US acknowledges, at least from my perspective, that it’s one country two systems.
Renee Yeh 39:40
I’m not sure if the United States acknowledges that Taiwan is a part of China.
Sean Moss-Pultz 39:44
That’s tricky. It’s really tricky. How do you feel like personally when you listen to her speak about Hong Kong, like as a Taiwanese person, how does that make you feel?
Renee Yeh 39:57
First of all, I’m really sorry about what’s going on in Hong Kong. And I think it would be too offensive to say that I can relate to that, or I can partly understand what’s going on. But I think that their experiences are a great mirror and or a window for people in Taiwan. First of all, it burst a bubble. So, in the last 40 years, I’ve heard so many Taiwanese politicians talking about that if Taiwan becomes a financial hub in Asia Pacific, then Taiwan is invincible. China would never attack Taiwan, because so many international companies are investing in Taiwan. So if Taiwan is in any kind of war, then these international companies will want to protect your assets. And then they would use different kinds of forces like lobbying or money to stop China from attacking Taiwan. But look at Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a financial hub in Asia.
Sean Moss-Pultz 41:11
Was. It seems like they are all moving now. They are moving to Shiang Hai, Singapore.
Renee Yeh 41:17
But this saying is based on the Switzerland model. So Switzerland is very small and venerable and does not have any military. But it’s secured itself by building its financial power. So I think people in Hong Kong and Taiwan believe that if we became a financial hub or if we attract a lot of money, and other countries, governments and businesses have a lot of assets here, then we’re invincible. Obviously, that’s a fantasy.
I think people in Hong Kong and Taiwan believe that if we became a financial hub or if we attract a lot of money, and other countries, governments and businesses have a lot of assets here, then we’re invincible. Obviously, that’s a fantasy.
Sean Moss-Pultz 41:55
So what you learn from Hong Kong is that idea is probably not true.
Renee Yeh 42:00
Yeah, it’s not realistic. And the other thing is that I feel very privilege to born and grow up here and live here. I still believe that human rights are given, it’s just that it can be taken away by different governments. And right now in Hong Kong, human rights is taken away by the Communist Party.
Sean Moss-Pultz 42:24
And cooperations too. I mean Apple seems to be perfectly willing to help out. Damn it Steve Jobs, why can’t you be alive now!
Renee Yeh 42:37
I was trying so hard to come up with some lights or something hopeful in our conversation. Like is there anything technologist can do? NO! Right now the tech companies are worsening the situation. They are not helping.
Sean Moss-Pultz 42:52
You should separate technologist and tech companies in your mind. Some of the best technologists are outside these companies. And these companies. Because they become such bit monopoly, they are not innovating as they used to. Instead they are trying to protect their incumbency.
Renee Yeh 43:16
Let me rephrase. I think technologists can help, but at the same time they need to scale up their contribution.
Sean Moss-Pultz 43:24
Well, it’s hard. Cause like Mary said, Apple blocked the entrance to the phone.
Renee Yeh 43:30
Ok, so I should just blame the big tech companies.
Sean Moss-Pultz 43:35
It’s very hard. We need ways to route around them.
Renee Yeh 43:58
Yeah so we are basically facing two kinds of authoritarian regimes, one is communism and one is tech monopoly or capitalist monopoly. That’s how I feel. I’m sorry for our audience that we didn’t come up with hope in crisis. But if we make sure people understand the scope of the crisis, then there can be hope.
Sean Moss-Pultz 44:30
I keep thinking that Hong Kong should do this g0v stuff. I heard a podcast a couple of weeks ago with Audrey and Triston Harris. It was such a great podcast. I felt like I know what g0v was, but the way she describe it. She said it’s a fork of a government service. I was like “What? Is that what it is?” So there’s some governments services that are being provided and you don’t think it’s good enough. So you go fork it and you make your own and you provide it to the public. If that’s not the solution for Hong Kong, I don’t know what is.
I keep thinking that Hong Kong should do this g0v stuff.
Renee Yeh 45:13
That’s what Taiwan did with public health.
Sean Moss-Pultz 45:16
It’s incredible. I think that right there is the hope. We need some g0v people to go over there and help them out. I think Hong Kong has too many bankers.
Renee Yeh 45:30
I think your proposal is a bit too wishful. For g0v to become a fork of government service, there need to be trust in government and people!
Sean Moss-Pultz 45:43
Well eventually, people just fork it first. If you look at the history of Sunflower movement, the government didn’t trust the people first, the people just did it. Trust came later.
Renee Yeh 46:04
I think Hong Kong is just more complicated.
Sean Moss-Pultz 46:08
I mean this is the only path I feel hope with. Let’s g0v this thing.
Renee Yeh 46:14
I had one question in mind I wanted to ask her: Looking forward do you see a path? And then you took it.
Sean Moss-Pultz 46:23
I tried. She didn’t give us a good answer, did she?
Renee Yeh 46:27
I think she couldn’t give us a good answer.
Sean Moss-Pultz 46:29
Maybe she had a great answer, but it was a strategy or a tactic, so she didn’t want to reveal. Let’s hope for that.
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