22 August 2019

How Beijing loyalists blew a chance to resolve protest deadlock

More than 40 days after it began, the student-driven pro-democracy protest shows no sign of ending.

Student leaders are debating how to take the movement to the next level and when, but the standoff with an increasingly unsympathetic government is not expected to be resolved any time soon.

This is where Beijing loyalists could come in.

They could play a role in bridging the gap between the two sides over the most contentious issues — public nomination of candidates for the 2017 chief executive election and genuine universal suffrage.

Until now, so-called pro-establishment forces have had a dismal performance in the public debate over Beijing’s proposed method of electing Hong Kong’s next leader.

Besides repeating the official line — absolutely no deal — and mouthing slogans, they have not offered anything concrete by way of a possible compromise.

Yet, they are probably in the best position to bring up the issues with Beijing because they are not constrained by the limitations of the Hong Kong government.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam herself admitted during last month’s short-lived talks with student representatives that some issues were not up to the Hong Kong government.

In addition, these loyalists might be more likely to be trusted by the students given the latter’s experience in dealing with government officials.        

Instead, the pro-establishment camp is not helping matters with their alarmist and sweeping statements.

On Thursday, trade union lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing said the continued street occupation by protesters risks an Ebola outbreak in Hong Kong because of deteriorating hygiene in the protest sites.

Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, the biggest Beijing loyalist bloc in the Legislative Council, accused Hong Kong Christian churches of conspiring with their counterparts in the United States to incite the protesters.

The comments were made in the chamber, which means these were protected by legislative privilege, whether or not these could be substantiated.

That is such a waste of a real opportunity to bridge the growing political divide.   

Which is why the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) has decided to bring the matter directly to the central authorities in Beijing.

It’s doubtful a meeting with Beijing officials will take place, let alone lead to the election framework proposal being withdrawn, but if nothing else, it shows increasing frustration among the students.

HKFS is looking to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and ex-Legco chairman Rita Fan to help them arrange a meeting with Premier Li Keqiang or Zhang Dejiang and Li Fei, the top two officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs.      

But with Beijing in the limelight as host of the APEC leaders summit which begins on Monday, officials would be wary of any unwanted side show.

There have been reports the Hong Kong government has been holding back on the protesters in order not to embarrass President Xi Jinping and that Beijing would not be opposed to the use of force to clear the streets once the APEC meeting is out of the way.

Xi himself has been reported to have said he does not want anyone hurt and Tung has been quoted as saying any dispersal operation will not involve China’s paramilitary police.

None of that really matters to the students who are prepared to face the consequences of their movement. 

They’re focused on the issues they’re fighting for, and all they want at this time is a moment with the central authorities.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe