HONG KONG—A day after the worst violence used by police so far in the clearance of protesters from a major road, the city’s chief executive has at length agreed to hold a dialogue with representatives of the pro-democracy students.
The dialogue, such as it will be, will be limited by a range of conditions, said Leung Chun-ying in a press conference on Thursday.
These include that the government cannot allow the public to nominate candidates for the chief executive election, and that a recent decision by China’s legislative body cannot be retracted. (Another condition on the talks, Leung said, was that the talks must not have preconditions.)
Under current rules, candidates for chief executive are hand-picked by a committee that is beholden to Beijing, which then delivers two or three candidates for the public to vote upon. The decision by the National People’s Congress in late August enshrined this process, calling it “universal suffrage,” because previously the chief executive was not voted upon by the public at all.
Those two points have, incidentally, been among the most sought after by Hong Kong’s students and young people, who have blocked key roads around government buildings in an effort to have the government engage in a dialogue.
Although many of the political questions the students want progress on are decided by Hong Kong’s political masters in Beijing, they have said that they wish Leung Chun-ying and the Hong Kong government to be their advocate to the central government, rather than the current scenario, where they see Leung as merely carrying out orders from Beijing.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was handed to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, based on the idea that democracy would be gradually introduced, and the Hong Kong peoples’ way of life would not change for 50 years.
The government said it has been talking to the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the major public faces of the protests, to re-establish dialogue. No time or location has been set.
Leung suggested that one potential compromise might be that the composition of the nominating committee, at the moment heavily pro-Beijing, could be altered to provide a more representative process.
Whether Hong Kong’s students and young people will accept a watered-down outcome like that is unclear. Over the last two weeks they have been determined to keep occupying major downtown roads, where they host lectures, bands, and camp out, until gaining the right to vote freely and fairly for a chief executive of their choice. The role is akin to a city mayor.
Later in the afternoon a police spokesperson, Kong Man Keung, threatened that those occupying the streets or inciting others to do so “must bare the liability, and will be sanctioned.”
He responded to video footage of members of his own force violently beating a restrained activist and politician, Ken Tsang, saying that the police “are very concerned about the incident.” Seven police offices were “interdicted from duty” because of their involvement, he said.
The violence against Tsang threatens to become a new rallying point for the occupy movement, which had until recently begun to lose steam and focus, with fewer attendees during the nightly rallies and setbacks to the occupation of some key roads.
Video shows him being carried, feet and arms apparently bound, to a dark corner of Tamar Park, between government offices, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and then being violently set upon for around four minutes by seven police. He posted to the Internet photographs of large welts on his back and bruises and cuts on his face. An angry crowd of hundreds gathered outside police headquarters on Thursday, demanding a public apology and the sacking and punishment of the officers involved.