17 Oct 2014

Hong Kong protests: ready for talk, nothing to talk about

We saw both two sides of Hong Kong’s intractable political crisis through the steely eyes of the protagonists yesterday afternoon.

We saw both two sides of Hong Kong’s intractable political crisis through the steely eyes of the protagonists on Thursday afternoon.

First, we invited ourselves to a government press conference at the colonial-era governor’s mansion and watched as Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive CY Leung (pictured, below) sparred with the press.


It is fair to say that the territory’s head is near-universally loathed by pro-democracy campaigners – and a good number of journalists – who  accuse him of acting as China’s stooge.

Here’s why they think that way: the Chinese government has decided that everyone in Hong Kong can vote in the next leadership election in 2017 but there is one serious catch – a special committee will ‘pre-select’ the candidates.

That way, say officials, they can be sure the eventual winner is ‘friendly’ to Chinese interests.

CY Leung says there is ‘zero chance’ Beijing is going to change its mind about this basic framework and he repeated that message yesterday afternoon saying that while he was willing to have a ‘dialogue’ with protest leaders, the ‘political realities’ are not going to change.

At this point I decided to ask him what the point of having talks with pro-democracy protestors was – if there wasn’t any room to compromise over the nomination of candidates. The proposed ‘framework’ is hardly consistent with the western conception of democracy I charged.

I am sorry to report that Chief Executive Leung – who is nicknamed ‘the wolf’ for his alleged cunning – easily disposed of my question. The public will get ‘one man one vote’ he replied, adding ‘not every western democracy’ allows for ‘civic’ – or open nominations of candidates. Take that Mr Sparks.

In the evening we had a chance to watch his opponents respond as they mounted the podium at the main protest site.


This gang of four – which includes three teenage protest leaders – looked steadfast and composed as they addressed an asphalt field of thousands.

No pushovers this group, they said they were “open” to dialogue but were skeptical of success if the territory’s government “picked the topics they are allowed to discuss”.

Of course the speakers, including 18 year-old Joshua Wong, were preaching to the converted. There were no signs of the strain or tension that leached through the chief executive’s press conference. Instead, the city centre crowd cheered them on in hearty tones.

Both sides then are prepared to talk but it’s not clear that they have anything to talk about. Without dialogue however, this crisis will surely travel in a dangerous direction.


The police will continue their campaign of clearing out the ‘occupied zones’ (protestors were removed last night from Mong Kok (pictured above) – one of three protest sites in the city) while pro-democracy demonstrators have promised to launch ‘guerrilla actions’ and ‘blockades’ in other parts of the city.

It’s hardly a recipe for future harmony.

Follow @c4sparks on Twitter.