22 August 2019
Regina Ip, Albert Chen, Tung Chee-hwa and Rita Fan (left to right) have separately urged the students to end the protest at one time or another. Photo: HKEJ
Regina Ip, Albert Chen, Tung Chee-hwa and Rita Fan (left to right) have separately urged the students to end the protest at one time or another. Photo: HKEJ

Protest 2.0: Is Chen a middleman in the making?

It’s six weeks old and counting but the democracy protest has made little progress in all that time and still less since student leaders held a meeting with a government panel near the end of October.

One explanation is the “shoot the messenger” approach of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS). 

Student leaders chose to speak with Carrie Lam, not CY Leung. When they found Lam ineffective, they decided to bypass the Hong Kong government altogether and deal directly with Beijing.

Now HKFS wants former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and National People’s Congress standing committee member Rita Fan to arrange a meeting with central government officials after next week’s APEC leaders meeting in Beijing.

Whether Tung, who arranged a visit by Hong Kong tycoons to meet with President Xi Jinping in Beijing in September, will oblige the students is anybody’s guess.

But the fact HKFS even turned to him — Tung is a kindly grandfather who is not known to be terribly fond of the student protesters — shows the protest leaders are running out of choices.

Potential middlemen came forward in the early going of the protests, notably Joseph Sung, vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but this week, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that Sung had told his staff not to offer help any more.

One problem in dealing with the students is their unpredictability.

A similar point was made by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam, who said the students changed their minds and scripts during the talks with the government panel.

According to HKEJ, the student leaders were 30 minutes late for a meeting with other groups that included Scholarism, pan-democrats and leaders of Occupy Central.

This is probably one of the reasons Benny Tai, a co-founder of Occupy Central, decided to go back to teaching this month.

Regina Ip may emerge as an acceptable go-between after she suggested that HKFS should be represented in the election committee that will pick the next Hong Kong leader in 2017.

This is obviously not what Beijing wants and it might sound weird to the protesters, but at least Ip has an idea.

Reform in the election committee is an alternative backed by Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo and legal scholar and Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen. 

In fact, Chen is probably the best middleman among all the prospects so far.

When he tried to persuade the students to go home, he sounded nice and pleasant. The first thing he did was to praise the students for their pro-democracy passion. Then he said the protesters have “already won no matter if they stay or leave”.

Chen also disclosed that he donated money to students to buy tents during the June 4, 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

He has won public support by offering some practical suggestions on how constitutional reform should evolve.

We hope he can continue to do that. Who knows if he or any other middlemen can bring this standoff to a happy ending?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe