Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters strengthened barricades around the government’s main office building, digging in ahead of talks pledged by top official Leung Chun-ying aimed at defusing a week-long standoff.
The government was forced to close the offices in the Admiralty district after student-led protesters blocked key entrance points. Heavy rain contributed to dwindling numbers of demonstrators at two secondary sites of the occupation.
The protests spurred by China’s decision last month that candidates for a 2017 leadership election must be vetted by a committee pose one of the biggest challenges Chinese President Xi Jinping has faced since taking over the Communist Party two years ago, as he seeks to stamp out corruption and dissent at home. Demonstrators see the protests as a last chance to secure democracy for Hong Kong and force China to respect the “One Country, Two Systems” pledge it made when it took control of Hong Kong in 1997 after 156 years of British colonial rule.
“Hong Kong is at a point of desperation,” said Sam Hsu, 41, who went directly to the Admiralty protest site with his suitcase yesterday upon his return from a business trip to Shanghai. “We can only pick set A or set B, potato chicken stew or curry chicken, but everyone already knows what the ultimate arrangement is.”
Hsu, who was born in the mainland and moved to Hong Kong in 1987, urged protesters not to waver.
“If people’s morale disappears, Hong Kong will fall into an even deeper abyss,” he said. “People will just emigrate to Vancouver, Taiwan. Or they will take even more provocative actions. Hong Kong won’t be able to repeat its glory days of the 80s and 90s either way.”
Demonstrators on an elevated road look at the office of Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying in Hong Kong, China, on Oct. 2, 2014.
The benchmark Hang Seng stock index rose 0.7 percent as of 2:16 p.m. in Hong Kong on speculation that the sell-off over the previous two trading days was excessive. Heavy rain also seemed likely to make it harder for students to sustain protests after organizers estimated at the weekend that numbers swelled to as many as 200,000. Police have not given estimates. The index is down 2.5 percent for the three trading days this week.
The Hong Kong dollar rose 0.09 percent, the most since December 2011, to HK$7.7569 versus the greenback as of 2:24 p.m. local time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Shares (116) in Chow Sang Sang Holdings International Ltd., the city’s second-biggest jeweler, were down 0.3 percent after it temporarily closed some branches and China ordered tour groups to cancel new visits to the city.
The unrest so far has cost Hong Kong’s retailers HK$2.2 billion ($283 million), or about 6 percent of the month’s total sales, Raymond Yeung, senior economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said in a research note today. Neighboring Macau, a gambling mecca for mainland Chinese tourists, may also be hit with some premium players canceling trips, Deutsche Bank AG analyst Karen Tang said in a note yesterday.
Banks reopened some outlets today with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority saying that 20 branches were closed, down from 33 on the previous business day. Standard Chartered Plc, Bank of East Asia Ltd., and Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd. said all their branches were open and HSBC Holdings Plc. said that it expected its outlets to operate normally.
With Hong Kong people returning to work after two days of holidays and student organizers concentrating their forces at the government headquarters, there were signs that the city was regaining a sense of normalcy. Barricades were removed on Hennessy road in the key shopping area of Causeway Bay, where only dozens of demonstrators remained after their numbers reached the tens of thousands some nights this week.
Some protesters rushed to try to block their removal as shouting matches broke out in the streets between the demonstrators and unidentified people trying to open up the road. Police appeared at about 1 p.m. to separate the two groups. Similar scuffles were occuring in the commercial district of Mong Kok, the third protest site, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
Students may be seeking a negotiated solution to the standoff, even though their demands have been rejected outright by Leung, who has been publicly supported this week by the government in Beijing.
A demonstrator uses a smartphone next to an effigy of Chief Executive Leung Chun ying on Connaught Road Central in the business district of Admiralty in Hong Kong, China, on Sept. 30, 2014.
One of the main protest organizers, the Hong Kong Student Federation, which sought a meeting with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, vowed to continue its sit-in until the government agrees to hold open elections. Its leaders pledged that it will step up action if talks fail. At a press conference shortly before midnight last night, Leung refused their call for him to resign, and students said they will focus on political reform at the talks. By 1 p.m. today there had been no announcement on when the negotiations would take place.
Several protest leaders welcomed the beginning of dialog and tried to ratchet down tensions, urging the thousands remaining on the streets last night to avoid provoking clashes with police who used tear gas and pepper spray last weekend. Some demonstrators dismissed Leung’s move as a stalling tactic, as one group continued to block a road leading to the leader’s offices.
Hong Kong’s “government and police will continue to exercise the highest degree of tolerance to let the young people gather,” Leung said last night at a briefing in his official residence. “Any place in the world if protesters surround, even charge or occupy, government or police quarters, the problem and consequence are very serious. I hope they can continue to be self-restrained and reasonable.”
Leung’s offer is “a practical move to buy more time” while he waits for public opinion to turn against the movement, said Hung Ho-fung, an associate sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who studies Hong Kong and China.
“I couldn’t imagine or have any expectations about any breakthrough,” Hung said. “They’re stuck in the corner. From Beijing’s perspective, from the Hong Kong government’s perspective, it’s very difficult to make meaningful substantive concession.”
The protests have sparked solidarity events around the globe from New York to Taipei, with demonstrators often holding up umbrellas that became a symbol of the protests after demonstrators used them to protect themselves from police pepper spray.
The demonstration may have also attracted the interest of the Anonymous hacking group. Eleven websites of Hong Kong businesses were defaced yesterday by hackers who injected the the logo “OpHongKong hosted by Anonymous,” the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre said in an e-mailed statement. A video posted yesterday in the name of the Anonymous group threatened attacks on Hong Kong government websites in support of the protests.