Hong Kong officials and pro-democracy students held the first round of talks on Tuesday towards reaching a concession between the two parties and ending the three week stand-off.
Student leaders reiterated demands for an unrestricted choice of candidates in the election for the territory’s chief executive in 2017. However, both Hong Kong and Beijing officials have said this is impossible.
The government’s negotiation team was led by the city’s most senior civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.
The secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students Alex Chow and four other student leaders, wearing black T-shirts that said “Freedom Now!”, confronted the five senior government officials in dark suits across a U-shaped table.
Chow criticised Beijing-backed hints at a procedural concession in choosing Hong Kong’s next leader. Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-Ying also said that “Hong Kong shouldn’t have broader democracy because the poor would have too much say in setting policies in the Asian financial hub”.
“We don’t want anointment,” said Chow.
“An unequal nominating committee is no good for the wealth gap in Hong Kong,” she added. “Should it continue to serve business conglomerates, won’t it continue to deprive the political rights of the one million people living in poverty?”
The officials stuck to the government line that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution cannot be amended to accommodate protesters’ demands, while also saying that many others don’t share their views.
“We hope you would understand that there are a lot of people who are not in Mong Kok, who are not in Admiralty. There are many people at home who aren’t insisting on civil nomination,” said Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam repeatedly chided the students for being “idealistic” rather than “pragmatic”.
Both sides showed little willingness to compromise. Lam said she hoped for further talks though the students weren’t sure whether they would continue.
Thousands of people intently watched the meeting on giant screens in the main protest area in Admiralty, on a highway next to city government headquarters. They cheered student leaders who criticised the government’s intransigence and booed Lam when she commended police for exercising restraint.