On Friday, representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the government will hold the first round of talks on political reform.
It could very well end without progress given the government’s hard line.
The students, on the other hand, insist this political issue should be resolved in a political manner, not on legal grounds.
All eyes will be on Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and the student representatives when they come face to face.
The meeting could decide the future direction of the ongoing democracy protest — whether to continue the students’ occupation of streets in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok or call it off and regroup at some time.
Already, the government has stated the bottom line — no going back on Beijing’s proposed election framework for 2017 — and has made an effort to manage public expectations.
It wants the discussions to be held in accordance with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, which sets the legal requirements for its political development.
Meanwhile, the government is playing for time, hoping the student movement will wane before it is forced to suppress it.
It is engaged in a public relations campaign to win public support for the Beijing framework while showing its willingness to listen to the students but on its own terms.
For the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets these past 11 days, the issue is clear: they don’t want Beijing to vet the candidates for chief executive in the 2017 election. They want genuine universal suffrage and the scrapping of functional constituencies that stand in its way.
The students know they may be playing into the government’s hand but they’re also smart not to overplay theirs. They are determined in their opposition to half-baked democracy.
If nothing else, there is a sense of relief on both sides that life can finally return to normal for ordinary citizens.
It’s not surprising that the government is using the vacuum created by the impending talks to restate its position.
But the students won’t easily give up the fight until they see proof of the government’s intention to engage in earnest and open dialogue.
The real decision is in the hands of Beijing. This past week, it has repeatedly said it won’t change its mind about the election framework.
Lam is expected to repeat what has been repeated — and so on and so forth.
If the government negotiates in good faith and with an open mind, Lam might be able to truly reflect the students’ wishes to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
And if Leung has the interests of Hong Kong people at heart, he will reflect those wishes to his bosses in Beijing.
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