Hong Kong Government, Protesters Make Tentative Moves to Compromise

Tentative movements toward a compromise emerged in Hong Kong on 3 October as Chief Executive Leung Chun yin agreed to let Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to meet with leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which called for a meeting with Lam on its Facebook page.

The federation had earlier threatened to escalate the protests unless Leung resigns and China rescinds a decision for a nomination commitee to vet up to three candidates for Leung's position in 2017, when Hong Kong voters will be allowed to directly elect the city's chief executive. Among the options were storming government offices, including government headquarters in Admiralty district, where Leung holds office.

Lam is said to have been conducting back-door discussions with protest leaders and pro-democracy legislators. She is considerably more popular than her boss, who is mistrusted and reviled by student protesters for supposedly being insincere and a tool of Beijing.

Important step

Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has also met with Martin Lee Chu-ming, founding chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, and media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-Ying, who has been funding the pro-democracy movement. But Tsang said the hour-long discussion failed to resolve anything.

Still, said Emily Lau, who is Democractic Party chairwoman, the talks are "an important step." She was speaking to Bloomberg by phone. "No one should underestimate the difficulty," she added. "The most important thing is to stay peaceful, rational and non-violent, as this is why so many people are drawn to the movement. Once you turn violent, you will lose support."

The protests, which seek to pressure China to allow universal suffrage to Hong Kong, attracted an estimated 200,000 people over the two-day holiday in the city that started 1 October, China's National Day.

The Federation of Students and the Scholarism group led by 17-year-old Joshua Wong have been mobilizing students to occupy the street in front of government headquarters. The Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement has joined them and set up barricades in the Central Business District. Barricades have also sprouted spontaneously in the commercial districts of Causeway Bay and Mongkok.

Cracks in the movement

China has said unequivocally that the decision on vetting nominations would not be changed. It raised the economic stakes for Hong Kong by directing travel agencies in the mainland to stop organizing tours to the city. Retail sales in Hong Kong have been buoyed by mainland Chinese visitors, who were expected to come and shop in Hong Kong during the Golden Week holidays built around the National Day observance.

The mix of organizations involved in the protest movement has raised questions about how united they will be as the protests continue. Some students and other demonstrators have reportedly questioned efforts by Occupy Central leaders, led by law academic Benny Tai, to control the way protesters behave and the tactics they employ.

One sore point has been the desire by some protesters to storm government headquarters, which Occupy Central leaders fear would provoke security forces to once again lob tear gas at protesters. The riot police had done this on 29 September, provoking members of the public to stream to the streets to support the demonstrators.

The police has since withdrawn, but could be deployed again should the "love and peace" parts of the movement be replaced by "storm and occupy."