Hong Kong students, officials meet for first talks

World Today

Hong Kong officials, students meet Leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Hong Kong government representatives look on before commencing their long-awaited talks to formally discuss demands raised by student protesters in Hong Kong on October 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez

HONG KONG (Xinhua and AP) — The Hong Kong government on Tuesday held the first formal talks with student leaders speaking for sit-in protesters to find a peaceful way to end the Occupy Central movement which started on Sept. 28.

Sitting opposite to each other, five government officials and five student representatives shared views on how the region’s next leader will be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 for two hours.

The meeting, presided over by Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng, was held in the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine where the press is only allowed to watch live TV broadcast of the talks in a separate room except for a five-minute photo session.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam and his aide Lau Kong-wah, as well as Edward Yau, director of the Chief Executive’s Office, attended the meeting as government representatives.

Alex Chow, one of the key leaders of the protesting students, and his aide Lester Shum as well as three other members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students – Eason Chung, Nathan Law, Yvonne Leung – spoke for the student protesters.

At the start of the talks, Carrie Lam said the government respected the students’ persistence in their pursuit for democracy which, however, should be sought for in a legal, fair and reasonable approach.

She hoped the students could take the interests of Hong Kong people and take the lead to urge protesters to leave the areas being occupied as it would not help solve disputes over constitutional reform.

Student representatives at the talks complained that the NPC Standing Committee’s decision would shut door on Hong Kong’s pro- democracy camp to become candidates, and blamed it on that Leung’s report did not allow different voices to be heard by the top legislature.

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

Chow and four other student leaders, wearing black T-shirts that said “Freedom Now!,” faced off against five senior government officials in dark suits across a U-shaped table.

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

The student leaders accused senior officials of “creating the current political problems” by submitting a report to Beijing on electoral reform that “misrepresented the views of the Hong Kong people.”

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the government’s No. 2 official, said the government would consider sending another report to Beijing reflecting the protesters’ views, though she repeatedly chided the students for being “idealistic” rather than “pragmatic.”

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 don’t share their views.

Carrie Lam said the government has conducted a careful consultation on the region’s constitutional reform, and the report submitted by the chief executive has taken into consideration the views of all circles in Hong Kong.

She did not agree that the election under the framework of the NPC’s decision is adopting a “hand picking” approach, adding that the election method is not ultimate and there are still rooms for discussion according to the actual situation and public opinions.

Story compiled with information from Xinhua and The Associated Press.