Hong Kong student representatives and government officials have held much-awaited talks to end street protests now in their fourth week, but achieved little progress to defuse the crisis in China’s semi-autonomous city.
In opening remarks, student leader Alex Chow said that an August decision by China’s legislature ruling out direct elections for the city’s chief executive in 2017 had “emasculated” Hong Kong.
“We don’t want anointment,” Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of three groups leading the protests, said at the talks on Tuesday.
Government officials stuck to the official position that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution cannot be amended to accommodate protesters’ demands, while also saying that many others do not share their views.
“We hope you would understand that there are a lot of people who are not in Mong Kok, who are not in Admiralty, many people at home who aren’t insisting on civil nomination,” said Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.
People gathered at the three main protest zones to watch the talks on big screens, and frequently cheered at remarks by the student leaders.
But many held little hope that the talks would end the impasse, though they thought broadcasting them would help get their position out to the wider population.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Admiralty, one of the main protest sites, said the talks seemed to have done little to dampen the protests.
She said student leaders appearing on a stage at Admiralty after the talks were met with loud cheers by thousands of people gathered.
“They told the crowd that they did not get a practical response from the government and they are disappointed in the discussions,” she said. “They urged protesters to carry on occupying sites, saying that the five speakers at the talks are not enough to convince the government to address their issues.”
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters ahead of the talks that the government would not let the public nominate candidates to run in inaugural direct elections to succeed him in 2017, as demanded by thousands of protesters camping out on main streets across the city. But he added that there was room to discuss how to form a key 1,200-member committee that would pick candidates.
Leung said such changes could be covered in a second round of consultations over the next several months.
“How we should elect the 1,200 so that the nominating committee will be broadly representative, there’s room for discussion there,” Leung said. “There’s room to make the nominating committee more democratic, and this is one of the things we very much want to talk to not just the students but the community at large about.”
Protesters have occupied main streets in three areas of the city since September 28 to demand that the government abandon plans to use the screening committee.
ANALYSIS FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
The talks have mostly highlighted that the hands of Hong Kong’s government are tied. While the government says it is compromising, the protesters have expressed disappointment and have vowed to continue demonstrations.
Carrie Lam, the chief secretary, led the discussions on the government side. From the start she reminded the student leaders that Hong Kong is not independent, and is part of China.
|Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan|
The government has said it will look into widening the criteria for the 1,200 people that form the nominating committee which chooses the candidate for Hong Kong’s chief executive. They say they will take into account public opinion and make the process more transparent. This is the issue at the heart of the protests, which are calling for a change in the basic law to allow Hong Kong’s citizens to choose their chief executive directly.
The protesters are also calling on the government to represent them, instead of being a conduit for Beijing’s desires.
Some analysts say though that student leaders themselves have not put forward any workable proposals, to meet the government in the middle.
There was little optimism before the talks, and Hong Kong’s chief executive angered many with remarks he made in an interview, saying that if there was full democracy in Hong Kong, it would be the poor and the working class that would dominate the decisions.
Hong Kong has the world’s highest concentration of millionaires, but 1 in 5 people live in poverty.