Hong Kong protesters criticize officials’ reform plan as vague
Student leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests said Thursday that they see little point in engaging in further dialogue with the government if officials don’t offer more specific details on a political reform proposal.
Yvonne Leung, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Federation of Students, confirmed that the government has reached out to her organization through a middleman to get feedback in the wake of Tuesday’s first round of dialogue, which saw five federation members talk for two hours with government officials. The event was broadcast live.
After the talks, federation leader Alex Chow and others described the session as disappointing, expressing frustration at what they saw as little movement from authorities.
Leung said Thursday that the federation currently sees no urgency in starting a second round of talks with the government unless officials make more concrete suggestions for political reform, or the circumstances surrounding the ongoing sit-ins change.
Demonstrators in Hong Kong, a former British territory that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a framework known as “one country, two systems,” have taken to the streets to demand open nominations of candidates for the Hong Kong chief-executive election in 2017. But the central government in Beijing has rejected such a framework, insisting that all candidates must be approved by a special committee.
In the Tuesday talks, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told students she would consider making a new report to China’s central government that would reflect the public’s grievances as well as establish a platform to “monitor further constitutional reform.” But she insisted that the framework handed down Aug. 31 by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress cannot be revised.
Protesters say that pre-screening framework amounts to “fake democracy” and have called for an open system of picking candidates, which they call civil nominations. Twenty-five days after protests began in late September, demonstrators are still occupying some streets in the districts of Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.
A poll released Wednesday by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed 48% of 802 Hong Kong citizens said they oppose the voting framework laid out by the National People’s Congress standing committee.
Leung, the federation spokeswoman, said the government moved one step forward by proposing four initiatives during the talk, but there were no specific details attached to those proposals. The student group, therefore, cannot evaluate them, she said.
Chow, one of the student leaders of the pro-democracy protests, told The Times that if the government cannot grant civil nominations for the 2017 vote, it needed to lay out a timeline for future reforms. “If the government can’t allow civil nomination now, they need to let everyone know their plan to achieve that goal,” he said.
He also called for academics and lawmakers to join the future rounds of dialogue with the government, saying “the student group alone cannot do what they can do.”
Hong Kong publications reported Thursday that Lam, the chief secretary, is eager to to get students’ response to the government’s proposals and have further discussions. At the same time, however, a government source has apparently hinted to the South China Morning Post that authorities could take a tougher line on the protests and clear sit-in sites if the deadlock persists.
“If the conciliatory approach doesn’t work, doves within the government would be sidelined while hawks would gain the upper hand,” the person told the Post. “We are worried that the administration would eventually use force to disperse protesters and a certain degree of bloodshed would be unavoidable.”
In a boost for students, a group claiming to comprise more than 1,300 civil servants took out a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper Ming Pao on Thursday expressing support for the demonstrations.
“As the civil servants, we deeply understand how much pressure our colleagues who work at the [front lines of the occupied areas] must have while facing the angry protesters. ... But we believe most of the protesters who occupied the streets are determined to stick to peaceful and non-violence principles, fighting for a better Hong Kong,” the letter read.
Meanwhile, tensions were running high again at the protest site in Mong Kok. A middle-aged man splashing a flammable solvent at protesters there was arrested on charges of attempted arson. In addition, four bags of what was apparently feces and oil was thrown from a building down onto the protesters, and hit a young girl who was passing the scene.
Hui is a special correspondent. Makinen reported from Beijing.
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