POLITICS

Hong Kong migrant Steven Cheung will try to become first Chinese lawmaker in Britain

Steven Cheung is set to run in British election; if he wins, he will become first Chinese MP

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 February, 2015, 5:40am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 February, 2015, 5:40am

There are almost 400,000 ethnic Chinese people living in the UK, but none of them have ever been represented in mainstream politics.

Steven Cheung, a 25-year-old Hong Kong migrant, hopes to change that.

Cheung, who now works for a major bank in the UK, believes he has a "fighting chance" to become the first Chinese member of the British parliament in its 800-year history.

Running as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats, Cheung plans to challenge incumbent Labour Party MP Stella Creasy in working-class Walthamstow in northeast London.

Creasy, 38, is considered one of her party's rising stars and is also a member of the shadow cabinet.

Speaking on a personal trip to Hong Kong, Cheung admitted he would face an uphill battle in the next general election that is expected to be held in early May. "I believe I have a fighting chance if we put in more effort," he said.

Cheung said he had already recruited a 200-strong team to work in the area, which has residents from many ethnic groups - including migrants from eastern Europe, South Asia and China.

Born in Hong Kong and raised in a public housing estate in Fanling, Cheung followed his parents - who were a dim sum chef and a part-time cleaner - when they moved to the UK in 2002 with his two younger brothers.

His family first settled in a grassroots neighbourhood in London, where he said he often encountered discrimination and bullying in the local government-funded secondary school he attended.

That experience inspired him to take part in public affairs and he eventually stood as one of the youngest candidates in the European Parliament election in 2009 - at the tender age of 19.

"I want the voices of Chinese and other ethnic minorities heard in politics," Cheung said, adding that British society had been increasingly opposed to migrant workers as residents see their jobs being threatened. "But the UK needs to keep its close ties with Europe in order to keep the economy growing."

Although he failed in his first bid at public office, Cheung continued to take up various advisory positions in the British government and decided to join the Liberal Democrats last year to run for parliament.

"It's time to break the silence and I want to take the lead by taking part in mainstream politics in the UK," he said. About 10 Chinese candidates from three major parties were preparing to run in the election, he said.

Cheung said he got party support to stand as a candidate after a "lengthy and complicated" selection process, which included hours of written tests and interviews by party leaders to determine his aspirations and understanding of various policy issues.

This was the first of many hurdles, he said. "It is not rare in a campaign for people to just slam the door on me or hurl abusive words when I try to approach them," he said.

Cheung said he was planning to write a book to inspire other young people to take part in politics.