Hong Kong Talks End Without Significant Breakthrough

As street protests in Hong Kong entered their fourth week, government officials entered into an unprecedented public debate with student leaders Tuesday evening, in which both sides presented their views but didn’t yield any significant breakthroughs. The Wall Street Journal provides a summary of participants and issues discussed. Ireland’s Independent newspaper reports on the talks:

In opening remarks, student leader Alex Chow said that an August decision by China’s legislature ruling out so-called civil nomination has “emasculated” Hong Kong.

“We don’t want anointment,” said Mr Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of three groups leading the protests.

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

The officials stuck to the government line that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution cannot be amended to accommodate protesters’ demands, while also saying that many others do not share their views. [Source]

The talks did not result in any concrete changes in policy, but the government representatives took a softer line on student demands than they have in the past. Michael Forsythe and Alan Wong report for the New York Times:

Carrie Lam, 57, the second-highest ranking official in Hong Kong, told the students that the government was willing to submit a new report to Beijing acknowledging the surge of discontent that followed the Aug. 31 decision by China’s National People’s Congress on the election guidelines.

In what appeared to be a further softening, she also said the rules could change in subsequent elections.

The students stuck with their demands to push for immediate changes to Hong Kong’s election law. They want the 2017 elections for the city’s highest post, the chief executive, open to a wide range of candidates. But Mrs. Lam’s offer did spark some interest.

“What is the next step?” Alex Chow, 24, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, asked after hearing Mrs. Lam’s offer. “Do you have a time frame? Do you have a road map to see in which direction our constitutional development is going?” [Source]

Prior to the talks, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung spoke with several foreign media organizations and also presented a more conciliatory approach to student demands than he has previously. From Agence-France Presse:

In an interview on Tuesday, Leung said that while Beijing would not back down on vetting his successor, the committee tasked with selecting those candidates could become more democratic.

“There is room for discussion there; there’s room to make the nominating committee more democratic and this is one of the things we’d very much like to talk to not just the students but the community at large about,” he said.

The offer is still a long way from meeting the core demands of protesters who say anything other than public nomination of candidates is unacceptable.

But Leung’s comments are the first indication of a potential negotiating point as talks began between senior government officials and student leaders at a nearby medical college. [Source]

For Forbes, Heng Shao lists six takeaways from the talks, which were intended to be the first-round in an ongoing dialogue, but students have not yet decided whether or not to continue. Number two on Shao’s list:

2. The Occupy Movement Itself

Neither has Chief Executive C.Y. Leung nor mainland media spoken favorably of the protests, which are deemed illegal by the Hong Kong government and the central government. During the dialogue, however, Lam characterized the student protesters as “peaceful” and having “exhibited a strong sense of civic awareness.” “We appreciate that,” she said. She admits that the “social campaign was of a massive scale with far-reaching implication.” But in light of the ongoing stand-off in Mong Kok, where many of the protesters are members of the working class, Lam warned that the movement has deviated from its “peace and love” objective and is “bordering on riot.” [Source]


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