21 February 2019
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (left) will lead televised talks with student representatives (top right) at 6 pm Tuesday. The government hopes to convince the protesters to go off the streets. Photo: HKEJ
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (left) will lead televised talks with student representatives (top right) at 6 pm Tuesday. The government hopes to convince the protesters to go off the streets. Photo: HKEJ

What next after govt-student talks?

A day before televised talks between government officials and student leaders on the issue of Hong Kong’s political development, the territory’s High Court issued on Monday two injunctions ordering the clearance of some key roads in the Mong Kok and Admiralty protest zones, fueling fresh doubts about the sustainability of the Occupy campaign.

It is no surprise that the court had been brought into the picture as the administration had failed to clear the roads after protests started in late September. While police tactics, including the use of tear gas, couldn’t force protesters off the streets, the court order should provide a solid ground for the government to bring the Occupy campaign to an end in a peaceful and legal way.

That is, of course, assuming that the student leaders and pro-democracy lawmakers will accept the court order and urge the activists on the streets to go home.

Beijing’s top leaders and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, seem to have learnt “a lot” in the past three weeks about dealing with the Occupy campaign. The focus initially was on police action — involving the use of batons, pepper spray and tear gas, as well alleged enlisting of some thugs — to clear the three occupy sites in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok districts.

When the tactics didn’t deter the protesters, some pro-government people and private businesses filed for court injunction to stop the campaign. The injunction requiring the clearance of Argyle Street in Mongkok is said to have been sought by taxi operators and a minibus company, while the Admiralty petition came from Citic Tower owners.

Legal route could indeed be the most effective and acceptable way for pro-government elements and private businesses to reclaim the right to use the roads being blocked by the protesters in the three districts.

However, as of now, the protesters are still camped out and have shown no sign of retreat. The petitioners have asked the demonstrators to respect the court decision, but it remains to be seen if the latter do so.

If the protesters choose to defy the orders, they could face the risk of contempt of court once the campaign concludes, and bring upon themselves a jail term of at least 14-days. The police can only help maintain social order in the protest zones, rather than force the protesters to disperse.

The government and its loyalists still do not accept the argument that the Occupy campaign in Hong Kong can only be solved in a political way, and not through police or legal means. The campaign, which is a kind of civil disobedience, is clearly seen as an unlawful movement and a bargaining chip to force the government to respond to the appeals for true democracy. 

The Hong Kong Federation of Students and government officials will meet at 6pm on Tuesday, with the discussions to be telecast live. While there won’t be any winners in the first round, the students will at least have the opportunity of a face-to-face dialogue with top officials, paving way for potential political solutions.

But the government appears to be drawing a line when it comes to how far the electoral reforms can go. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying suggested to foreign media that an open election is a danger to business interests. He also said the poor and working class could dominate elections if the government were to meet student demands to allow candidates to be nominated by the public.

The comments could fuel a fresh wave of anger among students and other pro-democracy activists who see public nominating right as a core element of true democracy.

From Leung’s remarks, it appears that the government has no real alternative to offer to the students with regard to the 2017 chief executive election framework. As it sticks to the “Beijing nominate, Hong Kong people vote” formula, the administration isn’t responding to the protesters’ concerns.

If the government ignores the public’s aspirations and doesn’t seek an adjustment in Beijing’s proposal, it could find that the Occupy campaign may morph into some long-term movement.

That would be something that nobody wants.

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EJ Insight writer

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