Hong Kong , Oct 21 :
The Hong Kong government Tuesday held the first formal talks with student leaders speaking for sit-in protesters to find a peaceful way to end the Occupy Central movement which started Sep 28.
Sitting opposite each other, five government officials and five student representatives shared views for two hours on how the region’s next leader would be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, Xinhua reported.
The meeting, presided over by Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng, was held in the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine where the press was only allowed to watch a live TV broadcast of the talks in a separate room except for a five-minute photo session.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam and his aide Lau Kong-wah, as well as Edward Yau, director of the Chief Executive’s Office, attended the meeting as government representatives.
Alex Chow, one of the key leaders of the protesting students, and his aide Lester Shum as well as three other members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students — Eason Chung, Nathan Law, Yvonne Leung — spoke for the student protesters.
At the start of the talks, Carrie Lam said the government respected the students’ persistence in their pursuit for democracy which, however, should be sought for in a legal, fair and reasonable manner.
She hoped the students would keep in mind the interests of the people of Hong Kong and take the lead to urge protesters to leave the areas being occupied as it would not help solve disputes over constitutional reform.
Hong Kong’s first chief executive was elected by a 400-member Selection Committee, while the second, third and fourth chief executives were elected by the Election Committee, with its membership increasing from 800 to 1,200.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the decision of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the top legislature of the country, more than 5 million qualified Hong Kong voters could have a say in who will become the chief executive in 2017 but they would be able to vote directly for one of two or three vetted candidates previously selected by a special commission.
Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said that many Hong Kong citizens disagree with the decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Aug 31, and that an unfair method for the planned universal suffrage would lead Hong Kong to a society with widening income gap.
The student representatives at the talks complained that the NPC Standing Committee’s decision would shut the door on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp to become candidates, and said that Hong Kong Chief Executive C.Y. Leung’s report to the Chinese government did not allow different voices to be heard by the top legislature.
Carrie Lam said the government has conducted a careful consultation on the region’s constitutional reform, and the report submitted by the chief executive has taken into consideration the views of all circles in Hong Kong.
She did not agree that the election under the framework of the NPC’s decision was adopting a “hand picking” approach, adding that the election method was not ultimate and there was still room for discussion according to the actual situation and public opinion.
She suggested that it would be better to think about how to increase democratic components and transparency of the election process rather than to resist the decision.
A fair, equal and transparent election method of the chief executive election could be brought forward by society through further public consultation.
The representatives of the Federation of Students argued whether the decision made by the NPC Standing Committee Aug 31 could be altered or revised.
However, Rimsky Yuen said that besides giving the green light to reform on the chief executive election, the top legislature also has the power to outline a direction for Hong Kong’s constitutional development at the second step.
Yuen stressed that Hong Kong was a special administrative region of China and the central authorities have a responsibility and power to handle Hong Kong’s constitutional development issues.
In a separate development, Chief Executive Leung Tuesday said he would consider disclosing the evidence of external interference in the Occupy Central movement.
Leung said Hong Kong, being a part of China, was a highly open city with a complicated international environment, and he believed the society was aware of the presence of external forces, Xinhua reported.
Leung said he was not merely speculating when he said Sunday that there were external forces involved in the Occupy Central movement, adding that he has a duty to know such matters as the head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.