"Occupy" talks fall flat as more protests urged

After nearly a month of often violent confrontation, Hong Kong's government is set to submit a report to Beijing. But as yet there are no concessions.
Crowds watch the dialogue in Admiralty
Crowds watch the dialogue in Admiralty

Talks between the Hong Kong government and student protesters on Tuesday night failed to ease the pro-democracy stand-off and underwhelmed watching crowds.

After nearly a month of often violent public debate about what it means to be Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, chief secretary, said she would submit a report to China’s government on the issue.

However, the first dialogue with student leaders, broadcast live and watched by thousands at Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, failed to produce any concessions from either side.

“Many people have expected this conversation for a long time. Hong Kong people feel that society is sinking. They think they must come out to fight,” said Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

At the heart of protesters’ demands is the call for a truly democratic election for the city’s chief executive from 2017, rather than a choice between Beijing-selected candidates.

However, in what felt more like a university debate than meaningful talks, the message was clear: protesters want something the Hong Kong government is not prepared to give.

“Hong Kong is not an independent entity but only a special administrative region and cannot decide on its own its political development,” Lam said, adding that central government has a constitutional role to play in this respect.

Lam, appointed by Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung to liase with the protesters, rarely wasted an opportunity to tout the party line and was booed by the Admiralty crowd almost every time she spoke.

“It is not a debate contest,” she added at one point.

But that is how it felt at times.

Sitting in two rows of five facing each other the participants took turns to speak, with the students more confident and passionate throughout -- hardly surprising.

No concessions

Officials must have felt the weight of two governments on their shoulders, and this was reflected in the lack of substantive concessions from their side.

“We cannot deny that over the past month … there was a social movement of a very large scale… So we are willing to submit a report to the central authorities about the events taking place in Hong Kong,” Lam said.

This was received with scepticism by the thousands of protesters watching in Admiralty on three large screens, the sound booming across Connaught Road like a music festival.

“The report will not be useful and nothing positive will come from the dialogue,” Carol, 28, a protester who works in the area, told FinanceAsia. “They just want people to think they are doing something”.

While the performance of the student participants was lauded by protesters, two of the five government representatives didn't even speak. “The Hong Kong government just wants to procrastinate their plans,” protester Augustine, 29, told FinanceAsia. “They want to make the students go home and study.”

CY Leung angered protesters on Monday by inexplicably suggesting universal suffrage would hand too much voting power to the city’s poor. This was a point picked up on by the student negotiators.

“An unequal nominating committee is no good to the wealth gap in Hong Kong. Should it continue to serve business conglomerates, won’t it continue to deprive the political rights of the one million people living in poverty?” Chow said.

Screening of the dialogue in Admiralty was punctuated throughout with cheers and boos depending on whether the students or government spoke, but by the end people had heard enough.

“There is no change,” Michael, 33, told FinanceAsia. “Even though we know we can’t do anything, we still come here.” He then joined a mass exodus from the Admiralty protest area, leaving about half the crowd listening to songs and speeches.

Lam said she hoped Tuesday night was just the first round of dialogue with students, and perhaps future talks will include Scholarism, the group led by Joshua Wong.

But with the Chinese government saying this week that it is losing patience with the situation and a backlash building against the protesters within some sections of Hong Kong society, time could be running out.

The protest at Admiralty has been largely peaceful and well organised but Mong Kok has witnessed chaotic scenes on a daily basis, including violent confrontation and injury.

“Mong Kok is out of control,” Kenneth Leung, legislative council member representing the accountancy profession in Hong Kong, told FinanceAsia. “There are too many factions and people [there] are much more radical than the students”.


It emerged on Tuesday that injunctions had been issued by the High Court on behalf of taxi and mini bus drivers seeking the reopening of roads, putting the protesters there at further risk of criminal prosecution.

Leung said that CY Leung would probably decide to clear the streets with tear gas and batons, possibly within a month. “If not, something even more nasty will happen,” he added.

It is therefore unfortunate that the Hong Kong government appears stuck between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Yvonne Leung, another member of the HKFS dialogue team, said that people watching on TV would feel angry because the Hong Kong government is giving up its responsibility and that it should not sit and do nothing just because the Chinese government is involved.

After the dialogue HKFS told protesters in Mong Kok that they should stay on the streets, while Lam reiterated the protesters’ actions in blocking major roads were illegal and that they should stop immediately.

“Who knows what central government will do,” Leung said. “The only way to end the protest is to have a political solution but there is no political solution.”


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