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Hong Kong Protests: Demonstrators May Refuse to Negotiate With Government

( [email protected] ) Oct 08, 2014 11:40 AM EDT
Demonstrators in Hong Kong said they will consider pulling out of discussions should the government continue to ignore their demands.
A woman walks past a wall of messages of support near an occupied area of Hong Kong, 7 October 2014. (Getty Images)

Hong Kong's government and the student groups whose pro-Democracy protests have attracted worldwide attention warned that they may pull out of discussions should the government continue to ignore their demands for meaningful reform.

On Tuesday, government negotiators and student leaders agreed that the formal talks set to begin on Friday would address the method by which Hong Kong's chief executive is chosen-- within the framework of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong. However, officials made it clear that substantive changes were not on the table, as talks will be restricted to a narrow discussion of the legal and constitutional basis for how elections can be set up under China's Communist Party-dominated legislature.

Students and the thousands of others who demonstrated with them over the past week are dissatisfied with the government's response, as they want nominations to be open, allowing voters, not a committee or a political party, to choose their candidates. In late August, China's legislature restricted candidates for chief executive to those picked by a committee dominated by Beijing loyalists, sparking the massive protests which began on September 28.

Joshua Wong, a student leader who helped spark the demonstrations, has promised a long-term fight against Beijing despite shrinking numbers. 

"Let's bring our clothes, tents and mattresses here," one of the movement's leading voices told a crowd late on Tuesday at one of Hong Kong's main protest sites. "We shall gather here and work here."

The 17 year old, whose strong Christian faith is the pimary driving force behind his activism, said demonstrators must be persistent in their push for democracy. 

"I don't believe after Friday's meeting [China's Communist Party] will say 'Oh, we'll give you everything you want'," Wong said. "We need to be persistent." 

Related: Joshua Wong, Christian Student Leading Hong Kong Protest, Will Continue to Fight for Democracy 

The government is insincere," added Lester Shum, deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. "I hope when we actually meet, they can directly face HongKong's political issues."

The protestors also continue to call for the resignation of the territory's chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who today had to refute a report that said he received money secretly from an Australian company.

"He doesn't fight for us," said protester Miu Law, 25. "In a political sense, he is ruling Hong Kong for the Chinese government. Practically, he's running it for the tycoons. We are twentysomethings; we have jobs; it is time to leave our family homes. But we will never buy a flat. Never."

If their demands are not met, student protesters are threatening to bring back the crowds that had halted parts of central Hong Kong last week, after days of talks eased tensions in the streets.

"The only step forward for the government is to directly answer the people's demand and the pursuit of democracy," Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters. "If we continue to insist on occupying and civil disobedience, that will give the biggest pressure to the government."

However, Michael C. Davis, a law professor at Hong Kong University, told the New York Times that the protesters should "declare victory" and end their demonstrations now, rather than have it dwindle and allow the police to end it. Then, he argues, organizers can preserve the threat of future movements to get more leverage in talks with the government.

"I think they moved the needle a little because they shocked the government," Mr. Davis said in a telephone interview."But to turn it into a victory there are more steps to take, and I think just lingering on the street isn't necessarily going to get them there."

Han Dongfang, who was jailed as a leader of the Tiananmen protests and now runs the workers' advocacy group China Labour Bulletin from Hong Kong, says he believes Beijing can compromise when it sees it is necessary--and encourages protesters to continue to fight for Democracy.

"I don't believe it didn't hear [the movement]; I don't believe the Hong Kong government didn't hear it," he said. "Most importantly, the Hong Kong people heard it."

"The central government will not let Hong Kong have its say so easily," said Law. "But I can see society is changing. People have started to see that politics is part of their lives: they have dignity and have a right to discuss issues with those around them, no matter whether they are for or against Occupy. We still have hope in fighting for a fairer electoral system."