Hong Kong’s government is considering submitting a report to China relaying the demands and concerns of the pro-democracy protesters who have blocked roads and clashed with police for almost a month.
Such a report would provide Beijing with a “reference” on the demonstrators’ opinions, rather than attempt to modify an Aug. 31 ruling by China on Hong Kong’s leadership elections, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said yesterday in televised talks with the protests’ student leaders.
“Something huge has happened,” Lam said. “Such a social movement is large-scale and its impact is far-reaching.”
Hong Kong's autonomy
Lam and four other government officials held discussions yesterday with five members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students led by Secretary-General Alex Chow in an attempt to resolve the biggest challenge to China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong since the end of colonial rule in 1997.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said before the talks that society’s patience with the protesters is wearing thin as some main roads in the city remain blocked off by demonstrators. Pressure to resolve the street occupation is mounting since three temporary injunctions for their removal were approved on Oct. 20, Leung said in a briefing with foreign reporters.
Pro-democracy protesters watch Alex Chow, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, as he is projected onto a large screen during a live televised talk between pro-democracy student leaders and the government outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty business district of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.
“If the police doesn’t act soon to restore law and order and traffic to normal conditions, the general view in Hong Kong is that people in the neighborhoods or people in the transport sector might take the law into their own hands,” Leung said.
Student leaders have demanded China amend a decision that candidates in the city’s first-ever leadership election in 2017 must be vetted by a nominating committee, a mechanism designed to guarantee a chief executive more loyal to China than to Hong Kong, they say.
Leung has said that while scrapping the method of vetting candidates isn’t an option, the question of how the members of the 1,200 person nominating committee are chosen could be open for discussion.
“There is room to make the nominating committee more democratic and this is one thing we would very much like to speak to the students about and with the public at large,” he said just before talks began yesterday.
The best institution to handle any report submitted by the government is the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council, or cabinet, Lam said during the talks.
Chow voiced concern afterward about the usefulness of the report and whether it would lead to changes in the election framework set by Chinese lawmakers. The five students sat at a table in a line facing Lam and her counterparts during the discussions, which were moderated by Leonard Cheng, president of Lingnan University.
It’s too early to tell if any report submitted by the government will have any effect on the next round of public consultations on the election process, Lam told reporters after the talks. No specific date has been set for that consultation.
While Lam called yesterday’s dialog “constructive,” she reiterated at the press briefing the government’s view that the 2017 election has to be done in accordance with the legal framework laid out by Chinese lawmakers. She said she was hopeful of having several rounds of talks with the students. Chow said it’s not yet decided if more talks will take place.
“So far we could not hear concrete proposals from the government,” Chow told reporters after Lam’s press conference. Whether the government’s report has any effect remains “a question,” he said. The government said in a statement that it was “disappointed” by Chow’s remarks.
Chow told reporters later that he wants the government to draft a timetable and road map for democracy, with steps including open nominations for chief executive and the abolition of legislative seats filled by small groups of businessmen and professionals.
Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said, “We cannot deny that in the past month, the class boycott started by you and the occupation movement, something huge has happened. Such a social movement is large scale and its impact is far-reaching.”
The government didn’t offer concrete proposals in the talks, Yvonne Leung, a leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said later yesterday evening to supporters. She urged demonstrators to remain in the streets.
“The talks yielded almost nothing,” said Donald Lung, a 22-year-old student at the University of Hong Kong, who said he had been hit by pepper spray earlier in the protests. “ I’ll not leave until the government really responds to our demands. Only fundamental change in the political structure can resolve problems,” including the city’s wide rich-poor gap and policies favoring tycoons and property developers, he said.
Over the weekend, clashes in the Mong Kok district north of the city’s harbor led to some of the worst violence since demonstrations began on Sept. 26, with police saying on Oct. 20 that the protests there risked turning into a riot.
Police used batons, shields and pepper spray on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 after crowds estimated at about 9,000 people poured into the streets to take back areas that had been cleared. On Oct. 3, at least 37 people were injured after hundreds of men attacked demonstrators in the area.
Police have arrested 94 people in Mong Kok since the start of protests and 61 officers have been injured citywide, Chief Superintendent Hui Chun-tak said in a briefing yesterday.