US NGO the Asia Society has said it was clear that “an error in judgement at the staff level was made” after its Hong Kong centre barred activist Joshua Wong from speaking at a book launch originally scheduled to take place at its Admiralty venue last Wednesday.

Freedom of expression NGO PEN Hong Kong eventually decided to relocate the launch of Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place – of which Wong was one of the authors – to the Foreign Correspondents Club in Central.

On Friday, Asia Society’s headquarters in New York issued a statement saying that it took the issue very seriously.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“[A]fter looking into the circumstances, it is clear that an error in judgement at the staff level was made involving the PEN Hong Kong event,” it read.

“Asia Society, throughout its history, has hosted events at all of its global locations with speakers representing all sides of major Asia-related issues. This has been one of our core principles since our founding in 1956; it’s still our policy today. We remain steadfast in our mission to serve as a global forum for meaningful and open dialogue.”

It noted that Wong had spoken at the Asia Society in New York in May along with other speakers from Hong Kong.

“Wong and speakers from all sides of the issue are welcome at Asia Society,” it added.

#眾志國際連結 【到訪Asia Society及Pen America】—— 九七主權移交前的美國東亞暨太平洋事務助理國務卿逗留紐約僅得一天時間,我們把握機會到訪Asia Society及Pen…

Posted by 黃之鋒 Joshua Wong on Friday, 5 May 2017

The Center on U.S.-China Relations, part of Asia Society which hosted the May event, also issued a statement on Friday saying it was “dismayed to read news stories” about Wong being barred from speaking.

“We hosted an excellent discussion with Mr. Wong in New York this spring, and we look forward to inviting him back,” it said.

“Throughout our 10-year history we have always been, and we remain firmly committed to, an open exchange of ideas of all kinds. Our commitment to open and free expression is essential to all of our work.”

“As our founding mission statement pledges, we seek mutual understanding between the U.S. and China by ‘undertaking projects and events which explore areas of common interest and divergent views,’” it added. “We intend to continue to uphold these principles in our research, reports, and public programming, and in the editing of ChinaFile and our other publications.”

Asia Society
Asia Society Hong Kong centre. Photo: GovHK.

In response, PEN Hong Kong tweeted that it was looking forward to seeing a Joshua Wong event at the Asia Society.

Headquartered in New York, Asia Society’s stated aim is to promote collaboration between Asia and the United States.

The board of trustees of Asia Society Hong Kong centre includes Ronnie Chan – a real estate mogul and key supporter of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying – and young pro-Beijing property tycoon Lau Ming-wai.

Last November, Asia Society Hong Kong also cancelled a scheduled screening of Raise The Umbrellas, a documentary on the 2014 Occupy protests.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.