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Hong Kong Billionaire On Why He Supports The Protests


We've been talking with one of the most prominent protesters in Hong Kong. He is among the few business leaders who have embraced a pro-democracy movement. We hear him amid more news from Hong Kong - the government has banned people from wearing masks, starting tomorrow. Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, invoked emergency powers to make this move - did not ask the legislature. The masks have helped protesters to protect their identities up to now. Now, the billionaire Jimmy Lai has made no effort to hide his identity. He is a newspaper publisher who has stood for openness. We spoke with him recently from Hong Kong about the protest movement.

Is this a winnable fight?

JIMMY LAI: Well, let's put it this way - if we don't fight, we will lose everything. We will lose the rule of law. We will lose the human right. We will lose the way of life that we're used to. We will lose, you know, the freedom we have. But if we fight, that might - you know, there may be a chance. There may be a miracle.

INSKEEP: What specifically do you want that you think the government could conceivably deliver?

LAI: Well, it's not me want. I think Hong Kong people, after more than three month resistance and facing the police violence, we know that if we don't fight, we will always be under attacked and under encroachment on our freedom.

INSKEEP: What do you want from the United States?

LAI: Support. I want people to keep us in their narratives. If the people talk about us, the politician will talk about us and the politician will support us politically and morally (ph). That's all we need. If the international population in support of us, we have a great deal of moral authority and moral support to go on our fight. And that's what we need.

You have to understand that Hong Kong is a tiny island of 7.3 million people. But these 7.3 million people share the same value as you Americans because of the legacy of our British colonial past. So if there's a new cold war, we are actually fighting the first battle of the cold war for you. And that - you have the obligation and interest to support us.

INSKEEP: Has President Trump's administration been properly supportive, in your view?

LAI: Yes. I think so.

INSKEEP: What do you make of President Trump's general approach to China?

LAI: I think he's done very well. I think that he's the only president who play hardball with China, and that is the only thing they understand.

INSKEEP: You think he's done the right thing to start a trade war with China and to push back on that...

LAI: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Set of issues?

LAI: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Do you trust President Trump to have your back if things truly get difficult?

LAI: I do. I do. President Trump will have no deal - I think President Trump is really smart to use our resistance as leverage in negotiating with China.

INSKEEP: Do you regard yourself as a patriot?

LAI: Yes, very much so. Otherwise, I would not fight.

INSKEEP: Well, Jimmy Lai, thank you very much for taking the time. I've enjoyed talking with you.

LAI: Thank you so much.


INSKEEP: He's the founder of Next Digital, which is a Hong Kong-based media company. And he is also the publisher of Apple Daily, an independent newspaper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "NO GOODBYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.