As talks broke down on Thursday between the Hong Kong government and student protestors who have occupied the city’s busiest streets for more than a week, a group of New York Hong Kongers met with the local Hong Kong government representative to present their demands.
Derrick Lam, a student from Hong Kong currently attending Binghamton University upstate; Anna Yeung-Cheung, a professor at Manhattanville College; and Richard Tam, a retired immigrant from Hong Kong who once worked for the city’s trade agency, gathered in front of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in midtown Manhattan on Thursday and told reporters about what they discussed with the office’s director, Steve Barclay, and other staff.
The office acts as a de facto embassy for Hong Kong, a special region of China that is governed by a different political system.
Hong Kong’s constitution guarantees universal suffrage for the election of the city’s leader, called the chief executive, but currently, the position is elected by a special committee. Beijing had promised back in 2007 that universal suffrage would be implemented for the 2017 elections.
But when mainland Chinese authorities proposed in August an electoral process that would allow Beijing to vet the candidates for office, Hong Kong residents took to the streets to demand a fairer method to elect their leader, in an act of civil disobedience that has captured the world’s attention.
The Voices of Overseas Supporters
Lam and others, who are part of a group called New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong, said they collected the views of people who attended rallies that they organized in the northeast United States since protests began in Hong Kong, and compiled them in a letter that they presented to the Hong Kong office.
Lam said that both overseas Hong Kongers and non-Hong Kongers in support of the protests have three main demands for the Hong Kong government: to engage in meaningful dialogue with the protesting student groups in Hong Kong; to withdraw the Chinese authorities’ white paper proposal; and to establish an electoral process that allows for true democracy.
“Our ultimate goal is equal, universal suffrage that is stated not just in the Hong Kong basic law, but also in the International United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, that all of the citizens of a country should enjoy the freedom, universal suffrage, and equal opportunity to choose their leader,” Lam said.
Barclay told reporters that he will forward the letter and the group’s demands to the Hong Kong government.
Yeung-Cheung said she and the others initially scheduled the meeting with Barclay to discuss the excessive use of force by Hong Kong police toward protesters during the early days of the protests. Police had used pepper spray and tear gas in a failed attempt to drive the protesters off the streets.
“We are grateful that we got this opportunity because I believe we are the first city in this global solidarity, among the 70 cities, to meet with Hong Kong government officials outside Hong Kong, and engage in a sensible dialogue,” Yeung-Cheung said. Volunteers in cities around the world have organized solidarity rallies in support of the Hong Kong protests.
She said Thursday’s meeting sends a clear message to the Hong Kong government that other people around the world care about the future of the city, and like the protesters, are fed up with the delayed implementation of free elections.
Hong Kong’s second-in-command, Carrie Lam, was scheduled to meet with student groups on Friday for negotiations, but she called off the meeting on Thursday evening.
Derrick Lam said he received news of this early Thursday morning in New York, and immediately received hundreds of messages on social media from other Hong Kongers living abroad, who expressed their anger and disappointment.
“If the government continues to call off the meeting, this won’t go forward,” he said.
Lam also said that many Hong Kong international students are worried about the decaying political situation back home and are hesitant to return.
He explained the international students’ rationale for supporting the movement: “We are not going against the government, we are not trying to do a revolution, we are not going to dysfunction the Hong Kong government. We just want Hong Kong to succeed.”
Additional reporting by Hannah Cai.