Wednesday 1 October 2014

Hong Kong pro-democracy protests 2014

HK protests highlight generation gap

READING Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong Chi-Fung's commentary ("Young protesters in HK want say in how they are governed"; last Friday), I cannot help thinking that so much of it is self-glorification, when the majority of Hong Kong people do not need him as a "hero" to fight for our freedom.

His ideology has achieved nothing, but has created disruption in Hong Kong society and has affected the livelihood of many.

From a barren rock, Hong Kong has flourished and become the very vibrant city that it is. Its success is largely due to the enduring hard work of the people who came before us.

Previous generations appreciated what little they had and made things better.

These post-90s younger people do not appreciate what they already have and only know how to be "angry and disappointed", and complain that the government is "trying to steal our future".

If Mr Wong's concern is that "job prospects are depressing", then why does he not encourage his fellow students to go back to class to study harder in order to better equip themselves?

Does he think smearing Hong Kong's image will give him better economic opportunities?

If his discontentment is that "rents and real estate are beyond most young people's means", then he should speak to his peers in developed Asian countries.

Are they not facing the same dilemma? And yet, do they go around occupying their main roads?

The fact that these student protesters have been occupying different areas for over a month already shows the great freedom that we in Hong Kong are enjoying.

What else does he want?

If it is universal suffrage, then if he reads enough history, he will know that it takes a "journey" to achieve any kind of reform.

It only goes to show that Mr Wong and his post-90s generation would like everything to happen instantly.

With this kind of mentality, I am afraid we have lost a generation of youth, just as Mr Wong aptly described.

Yung Yung Lam (Ms)
Hong Kong
ST Forum, 6 Nov 2014

Young protesters in HK want say in how they are governed
By Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Published The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2014

TUESDAY night marked one month since the day Hong Kong's police attacked peaceful pro-democracy protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, inadvertently inspiring thousands more people to occupy the streets for the right to freely elect Hong Kong's leaders.

I was being detained by the police on that day, Sept 28, for having participated in a student-led act of civil disobedience in front of the government's headquarters. I was held for 46 hours, cut off from the outside world. When I was released, I was deeply touched to see thousands of people in the streets, rallying for democracy. I knew then that the city had changed forever.

Since the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, less than a year after I was born, the people of this city have muddled through with a political system that leaves power in the hands of the wealthy and the well-connected. Many of us, especially people of my generation, had hoped democratic change was finally coming after years of promises from Beijing that we would eventually have free elections. Instead, in late August, Beijing ruled that Hong Kong's oligarchy will remain in charge. Universal suffrage became a shattered dream.

But not for long. The thousands of protesters, most of them young, who continue to occupy main areas of the city are showing every day how political change will eventually come: through perseverance. Our peaceful democracy demonstration has demolished the myth that this is a city of people who care only about money. Hong Kongers want political reform. Hong Kongers want change.

My generation, the so-called post-'90s generation that came of age after the territory was returned to China, would have the most to lose if Hong Kong were to become like just another mainland Chinese city, where information is not freely shared and the rule of law is ignored. We are angry and disappointed that Beijing and the local administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying are trying to steal our future.

The post-'90s generation is growing up in a vastly changed city from that of our parents and grandparents. Earlier generations, many of whom came here from mainland China, wanted one thing: a stable life. A secure job was always more important than politics. They worked hard and didn't ask for much more than some comfort and stability.

The people of my generation want more. In a world where ideas and ideals flow freely, we want what everybody else in an advanced society seems to have: a say in our future.

Our bleak economic situation contributes to our frustrations. Job prospects are depressing; rents and real estate are beyond most young people's means. The city's wealth gap is cavernous. My generation could be the first in Hong Kong to be worse off than our parents.

My parents are not political activists. But over the past few months, because of my prominent role in the protest movement, my family's home address has been disclosed online, and my parents have been harassed. Despite the aggravation, my parents respect my choice to participate in the demonstrations. They give me freedom to do what I believe is important.

Other young people are not so lucky. Many teenagers attend our protests without their parents' blessing. They return home to criticism for fighting for democracy, and many end up having to lie to their parents about how they are spending their evenings. I've heard stories of parents deleting contacts and social media exchanges from their teenage children's mobile phones to prevent them from joining activist groups.

My generation's political awakening has been simmering for years. Nearly five years ago, young people led protests against the wasteful construction of a new rail line connecting Hong Kong to mainland China.

In 2011, many young people, myself included, organised to oppose a national education programme of Chinese propaganda that Beijing tried to force on us. I was 14 at the time, and all I could think of was that the leaders in Beijing have no right to brainwash us with their warped view of the world.

If there is anything positive about the central government's recent decision on universal suffrage, it's that we now know where we stand. Beijing claims to be giving us one person, one vote, but a plan in which only government-approved candidates can run for election does not equal universal suffrage. In choosing this route, Beijing has showed how it views the "one country, two systems" formula that has governed the city since 1997. To Beijing, "one country" comes first.

I believe the August decision and the police's strong reaction to the protesters - firing more than 80 canisters of tear gas into the crowds and using pepper spray and batons - was a turning point. The result is a whole generation has been turned from bystanders into activists. People have been forced to stand up and fight. Today, there are many middle school students active in the pro-democracy movement: Students as young as 13 have boycotted classes, while teenagers of all ages have been staying overnight at the protest sites. They protest gracefully, despite being attacked by police and hired thugs.

Some people say that given the government's firm stance against genuine universal suffrage, our demands are impossible to achieve. But I believe activism is about making the impossible possible. Hong Kong's ruling class will eventually lose the hearts and minds of the people, and even the ability to govern, because they have lost a generation of youth.

In the future I may be arrested again and even sent to jail for my role in this movement. But I am prepared to pay that price if it will make Hong Kong a better and fairer place.

The protest movement may not ultimately bear fruit. But, if nothing else, it has delivered hope. I would like to remind every member of the ruling class in Hong Kong: Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side.

Politician sees violent end to HK protests
No chance of reaching a compromise, warns Legislative Council president
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE one man held in respect by both sides in a politically polarised Hong Kong is gloomy about prospects that the ongoing crisis can end in a "peaceful manner".

And one possible end-game that a sombre Mr Jasper Tsang Yok Sing broaches is of a "small-scale violent conflict" breaking out, possibly in Mong Kok, "giving the police a very good reason to take tough action". This is followed by an islandwide curfew.

If this scenario pans out, it will be the first time a curfew has been imposed in Hong Kong since the 1960s, a turbulent time in its history when riots rocked the city.

This is not a strategy that the government is contemplating, stresses Mr Tsang, who is president of the Legislative Council (LegCo) and founding chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing party.

Yet it is a "best-case scenario" raised by an individual during his recent consultations with moderates in both camps. It is also one that more and more people are agreeing with.

"We came up with the rather pessimistic conclusion: there is no chance of various sides reaching a compromise that will defuse this in a peaceful way," he says bluntly in an interview at his office at the LegCo building overlooking the protest site in Admiralty. On the one-month anniversary of the pro-democracy protest movement that has gripped Hong Kong, the 67-year-old, wearing his trademark Mao suit, is in a sombre mood.

The politician whom many in the establishment and pro-democracy camps trust to be even-handed has been repeatedly asked to help broker an end to the stand-off. In private, he has met Beijing officials, protest leaders as well as students.

His conclusion: It is a "zero-sum game".

Among protest leaders, while some are looking for a "safe exit", there are "hardliners who will not want the movement to subside without getting what they want".

The students' talks with the government last week were an example, he says. The protesters had given the impression beforehand that they could accept the concessions the government eventually proposed, such as a non-binding report on the Occupy movement.

"But the students rejected everything and made even harsher demands," he says. "They won't go home without something they can brandish as a trophy."

At the same time, Beijing is "very adamant it cannot send out a message to Hong Kong and the world that with a large enough number of people on the streets, it will accede to what people want".

"So, even if the Hong Kong government wants to (do something else to) resolve the deadlock, they can't. This is the dilemma."

However the crisis ends, Mr Tsang is clear about one thing: The central government will be reassessing the political dynamics in Hong Kong, with ramifications for the city's Constitutional development.

Before the Chinese legislature's controversial Aug 31 decision - that only Beijing-anointed candidates can run for Hong Kong chief executive in 2017 - Beijing "did expect some kind of reaction". But it thought this would eventually be reined in by the famed pragmatism of Hong Kongers to "accept the reality". Mr Tsang himself had argued for a more open electoral system, citing the same pragmatism that will make it unlikely for Hong Kongers to elect a leader opposed to the central government. This did not work.

But now, "the current situation will only make the central government more hardline, more convinced that it was a wise decision to ensure that any method of electing the chief executive in future must include safeguards against allowing 'undesirable' politicians to take part", he says.

Mr Tsang has ideas for a possible compromise. Candidates, including those from the democracy camp, who attain a minimal threshold of votes from the nominating committee can conduct full-scale election campaigns along with popularity polls.

Before the committee makes its final decision at the behest of Beijing, the central government will have to weigh carefully the "high political price", in terms of the credibility of the electoral system, it would have to pay if it rejects any popular candidates.

After all, he argues, "they do want Hong Kong to be effectively governed, and for the chief executive to have a popular mandate".

Chinese officials he has spoken to say the idea is feasible. But to date, the pro-democracy camp has refused to discuss such a compromise, he says.

Another controversial issue is the purported involvement of foreign forces in the movement.

On this, Mr Tsang calls a recent BBC report which claimed that over 1,000 of Hong Kong's protesters were trained by foreign activists "a very very poor piece of reporting".

"That is nonsense," he says.

But he also says it would be "strange if people around the world turn a blind eye to what's going on in Hong Kong".

While Washington or London may not be instigating or funding the protest movement, this does not preclude others in the political sphere from doing so, he says.

Mr Tsang has long been touted as a possible candidate who can win a chief executive election.

He categorically rules it out. Besides his age working against him, he knows "very little about economics and running a government", he says modestly, before adding with a laugh: "Even if I had wanted to in the past, what's happened in the last month is enough to put me off."

Thousands mark month of protest in Hong Kong
Activists seek meeting with Beijing if impasse continues
By Li Xueying Hong Kong CorrespondentThe Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

AT PRECISELY 5.57pm yesterday, thousands of mostly canary-yellow umbrellas were unfurled at three pro-democracy protest sites in Hong Kong.

The protesters held their brollies aloft as they marked 87 seconds of silence - one for each of the tear gas canisters police had fired to disperse the crowds one month ago on Sept 28.

Laden with symbolism, the ritual came as protest leaders called for a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang if the Hong Kong government is unable to deliver their demands to Beijing.

This is the first time that a request for a direct meeting with top leaders in Beijing was made, marking an attempt to up the ante as the movement struggles to find new momentum.

Such a meeting is unlikely to materialise. Instead, the central government appears to be making a show of hardening its stance, with local news site Bastille Post saying yesterday that pro-Beijing Liberal Party leader James Tien, who had earlier called for Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's resignation, has been fired by the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top advisory body. An announcement is expected to be made today.

Meanwhile, a long-awaited "through-train" initiative announced six months ago to allow direct share trading between Hong Kong and Shanghai has yet to start this month.

Protesters at the Admiralty protest site last night said that what matters more in the long run is for Hong Kong to protect its core values and attain "genuine universal suffrage".

But with the sit-in stretching into its second month, many are also moderating their demands, saying they did not expect it to last so long.

Student Alice Ma, 21, who was hit by pepper spray on Sept 28, recalls how someone had lent her an umbrella then. It was broken in the scuffles. Yesterday, she proudly showed off a new one she bought.

"It's like our determination. You cannot break our spirit."

But she said that in keeping with the "reality", she is no longer holding out for public nomination of candidates for the chief executive election, which she admits is "too idealistic".

"So long as the government says it will talk to Beijing about revising its decision, I will be satisfied."

Retired civil servant Leung Si Sing, 60, however, is determined that the protesters should continue to hold out for China's legislature to rescind its Aug 31 decision to impose strict rules on Hong Kong's first direct election of its leader, slated for 2017.

"We will stay on. Our frustration runs deep," he said.

A month on, Harcourt Road is hardly recognisable. Instead of vehicles, a village of colourful tents and study desks occupies the thoroughfare.

Progress to end the stand-off has stalled after talks on Tuesday last week between the government and student protest leaders failed to make headway.

In an open letter to Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the Federation of Students said it would be open to more talks if a proposed government report to Beijing includes a request for the Aug 31 decision to be withdrawn.

'Beijing threats ended British push for HK democracy in 1950s'
The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

BEIJING - It is a common riposte among those who oppose the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, especially in mainland China: Where were the champions of universal suffrage during the many decades that Britain denied Hong Kong residents the right to govern themselves?

"In 150 years, the country that now poses as an exemplar of democracy gave our Hong Kong compatriots not one single day of it," People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, said in a recent editorial.

"Only in the 15 years before the 1997 handover did the British colonial government reveal its 'secret' longing to put Hong Kong on the road to democracy."

But documents recently released by the National Archives in Britain suggest that beginning in the 1950s, the colonial governors who ran Hong Kong repeatedly sought to introduce popular elections but abandoned those efforts in the face of pressure by Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

The documents, part of a batch of typewritten diplomatic dispatches requested by reporters from two Hong Kong newspapers, reveal that Chinese leaders were so opposed to the prospect of a democratic Hong Kong that they threatened to invade should London try to change the status quo.

"We shall not hesitate to take positive action to have Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories liberated," Mr Liao Chengzhi, a senior Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, was reported to have said in 1960, referring to the areas under British administration that would later be returned to China.

Another document recounts a meeting two years earlier, during which premier Zhou Enlai told a British military officer that any effort to introduce even a modicum of self-governance to Hong Kong would be viewed as "a very unfriendly act" and a "conspiracy", one that he suggested would be seen as a move to set the colony on a path to independence. The threats had the desired effect. Britain made little effort to introduce electoral democracy in Hong Kong in the following decades.

The documents also highlight how China's vehemence intensified in the early 1980s as the two sides began discussing Hong Kong's future.

Today's critics in Beijing are correct, however, in suggesting that Britain, which took over Hong Kong in 1842, came late to the democracy game. Britain's democratic impulses in the 1950s came after it had been ejected from India and was trying to head off revolts in several colonies.

"It was at a time when Britain was introducing democracy in many of its colonies around the world, and the idea was Hong Kong should be treated the same," said assistant professor of law Danny Gittings of the University of Hong Kong.

Leung regrets his comments on elections
The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying has expressed "regrets" for making controversial remarks which suggested open elections would result in the city's poor dominating politics.

He had also said that religious and sports sectors do not contribute to the economy.

Mr Leung yesterday apologised for causing "misunderstandings and concern" with his comments, but said he remained committed to Beijing's vetting procedure, under which a 1,200-strong committee would vet candidates contesting in the 2017 election in the city.

The committee will comprise representatives from professional classes and special interest groups, the South China Morning Post reported.

Student demonstrators are opposed to the vetting process, pressing for the right to choose their own leader.

Mr Leung had told the foreign media last week that allowing the public to vote for candidates of their choice would mean the candidates would focus on winning over the poor.

He caused more waves days later when he said some members of special interest groups - specifically from the sport and religious sectors - "do not contribute to the economy".

"I understand I should have made myself clearer on some points," Mr Leung said yesterday. "What I meant was that we have to pay attention to every sector. This means we should not lean towards any sector or class because of its size or its contribution to the economy."

Mr Leung, a Beijing loyalist, is highly unpopular in Hong Kong. A new poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong suggests his popularity has sunk to a record low, while distrust in his government has risen to an 11-month high. He now scores 38.6 on a 0-to-100 voter approval scale - his lowest since taking office in March 2012 when his score was 53.9, Agence France-Presse reported.

Anti-Occupy bloc seeks support to end protests
Battlefield moves to court of public opinion for opposing camps in HK
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

AS HARRIED Hong Kongers go about their business in the Central financial district on a Monday afternoon, they are accosted by grey-haired men and women.

Wearing a smile and cheery red polo shirts, the elderly folk urge passers-by to spare a minute to sign their names.

While most people walk away, some, like retired senior executive Brenda Chow, 70, readily does as she is asked.

"The students are too selfish. They are ignoring the rule of law by occupying the roads for so long," she said afterwards.

It is a scene replicated across the city, as a group calling itself the Alliance for Peace and Democracy launched a counter-movement to collect signatures from members of the public who oppose the Occupy movement.

As the protest sit-in moves into its fifth week with no end in sight, the battlefield has moved from the streets - where clashes have erupted in recent weeks - to the judicial courts and the court of public opinion.

Mr Robert Chow, one of the founders of the alliance, a coalition of Beijing-friendly groups, including business associations and mainland university alumni and clan groups, told The Straits Times they decided to take action because they became tired of waiting for the protest to end.

The campaign began last Saturday and has collected 801,500 names as of last night, the group said.

"Everyone thought the Occupy movement would end in a week; we had hoped the government would untangle this mess. But we waited and waited and waited. And now, we have to do something," said Mr Chow.

The strategy - he thinks the number of signatures this time could be double the 1.5 million it garnered during a similar campaign in July - will be "a shot in the arm for whoever wants law and order in Hong Kong".

"If the police want to do something, they will know that they have the support of the people."

This was even as the government told the High Court in an ongoing hearing yesterday that the police are ready to help bailiffs enforce injunctions to get protesters to leave some areas in Mong Kok and Admiralty.

Meanwhile, the Occupy movement is preparing to mark its first-month anniversary today by calling on supporters to turn up at its protest site in Admiralty with umbrellas.

Those who cannot make it, it said, can wear yellow, the symbolic colour of the movement, and mark a moment of silence at 5.57pm - which was when police first used tear gas on Sept 28.

Public sentiment has always been crucial but as the stand-off persists, it is an increasingly important weapon wielded by both sides to buttress their stance.

Journalism academic Francis Lee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) noted that both sides "need to use different means, to make news, keep the momentum going and suggest they have the support of the people".

In particular, the anti-Occupy bloc appears to be moving into a new phase after its earlier methods, such as confronting Occupy protesters and "creating chaos", failed to turn the public tide, he said. A recent CUHK poll found that support for Occupy went up, from 31 per cent to 38 per cent, while those against it declined from 46 per cent to 35 per cent.

Mr Chow dismissed the poll, saying he believes that it could be "manipulated". He insists nothing can beat the number of signatures the Alliance can collect.

Defending charges and criticism that its previous campaign employed double-counting of signatures and pressured workers to take part, Mr Chow said that the alliance was the victim of a smear campaign.

"Our show of signatures is a show of force," he said.

Survey U-turn highlights splits in HK protest
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

UNDERSCORING a key challenge for the Occupy protest movement, an electronic poll was called off at the last minute, with the organisers saying there were "differences in opinion" about it.

The referendum was meant to seek protesters' views and forge consensus on the movement's next step, given the current impasse after talks with the government last Tuesday.

But in a statement just hours before voting was to start yesterday, the organisers apologised for "inadequate discussions with the stakeholders" prior to holding the poll.

"There are many differences in opinion on various issues... including on the complexity of the questions asked, and the practical use of the poll," it said.

"We think that a mass movement should be based on the views of the masses and, after detailed discussions, decided to shelve the poll."

The U-turn highlights fissures within the movement, which is spearheaded by three different groups - the Federation of Students comprising university unions, Scholarism, whose followers are mainly secondary school students, and Occupy Central, led by academics. Among the protesters themselves, some have said that they do not recognise any leaders.

Occupy Central organiser Chan Kin Man had earlier told The Straits Times that some felt that the poll was "too moderate" in soliciting views on the government's proposals.

During the talks with the students, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam had proposed two concessions - that the Hong Kong government submit a report on the Occupy movement to Beijing and that a multi-party platform be established to discuss long-term constitutional developments. However, both will not have any impact on the inaugural chief executive election, scheduled for 2017, she said.

The electronic poll, which was to have been held over two nights, would have asked protesters if the Hong Kong government report should suggest that Beijing rescind its Aug 31 decision that would essentially allow only Beijing-anointed candidates to take part in the chief executive election in 2017.

The poll would also have asked if the platform should include public nomination in the 2017 chief executive race and the abolition of special interest constituencies in the 2016 legislative council election.

Journalism academic Francis Lee said it was probably the first time that a protest movement had engaged in "this kind of internal democracy when determining its strategies".

There were fears among some protesters, however, that the results could lead to the movement retreating from its protest sites in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, which the protesters have occupied for the past month.

The backtracking on the electronic poll chimes with similar zig-zag actions by the government, which has veered between police crackdowns and its current passive approach. No second round of talks has been proposed.

Meanwhile, anti-Occupy segments of society appear to have decided to take things into their own hands, with some groups filing court injunctions to rule that the protests are illegal.

Scuffles also broke out last Saturday night, with local reporters saying that they were attacked.

Yesterday, a group calling itself the Alliance for Peace and Democracy launched a signature campaign to seek public support for the protesters' retreat.

Said spokesman Robert Chow: "I think it is a just demand, asking for our roads and freedoms back, as well as the rule of law."

Hong Kong protesters show signs of softening on demands
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

ONE month after the Occupy movement began its sit-in at major roads to agitate for greater democracy - and as winter starts to creep into Hong Kong - there are signs that the protest leaders may soften their stance on long-held demands and are moving towards finding possible points of negotiation.

One of the protesters' initial demands was that Beijing retract its Aug 31 decision on Hong Kong's Chief Executive election. The other is that public nomination be put in place in time for the first race, slated for 2017.

Instead, the protesters are now mulling over two possibilities to end the political impasse.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Occupy organiser Chan Kin Man said that one scenario is to establish a road map for the eventual introduction of public nomination beyond 2017.

A second possibility is to accept that the composition of the nominating committee to vet candidates has to follow the rules set out by the National People's Congress - that it comprises 1,200 members from four industry sectors. But they should be elected by the public so as to be "broadly representative" as stated in the Basic Law. Currently, many are appointed representatives of commercial and other interests, forming an estimated two-thirds of the committee deemed to be Beijing loyalists.

"We want the committee formed so that members are, say, restaurant employees rather than a director of a food and beverage company," said Dr Chan.

This, said political science academic Peter Cheung, who is not affiliated with the movement, would mark a "major concession".

Still, there is a yawning chasm between the two scenarios that Dr Chan spelt out and what Beijing will brook. Those in the know have said that it will not allow any set-up that could enable someone it does not approve of to reach the final voting stage.

However, the protesters' softening of demands is a small step towards a possible middle ground, following comments by Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying this week that "there's room to make the nominating committee more democratic".

A third scenario is of a "crackdown" to forcibly remove the protesters - and "that's something we all don't want", said Dr Chan.

But any negotiating process, if it starts, will likely be protracted.

Since Sept 28 when Hong Kong ricocheted across the world's radar as hundreds of thousands of people flooded the roads, both the government and protesters have held fast to their positions. Highly anticipated talks on Tuesday night ended in deadlock. Hong Kong officials refused to budge, saying Beijing would not give in to the protesters' demands.

The movement is spearheaded by three groups - the Federation of Students representing university unions, Scholarism, whose followers are largely secondary school students, and Occupy Central, led by academics.

"It's been a very difficult process as there are so many stakeholders," acknowledged Dr Chan. "The young don't want easy compromises; they are idealistic, want immediate results like public nomination now, while the middle-aged like me know it is a long-term war and takes time."

The development comes ahead of a poll tomorrow, which will seek protesters' views on whether they should accept the government's proposals, including submitting a memo to Beijing to reflect the current situation.

First HK chief lends support to Leung
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

HONG Kong's first chief executive Tung Chee Hwa has delivered a ringing endorsement of current leader Leung Chun Ying, saying he is dealing with a tremendous challenge in a "very calm and collected" manner.

On whether Mr Leung will be stepping down, Mr Tung immediately stated: "No, emphatically." He added that Mr Leung wants a peaceful solution to the political crisis and remains highly trusted by the central government.

Speaking at a press conference at his office, Mr Tung also sought to defuse tension over the scandal of Mr Leung's undeclared acceptance of HK$50 million (S$8.2 million) in fees from Australian company UGL while in office.

Mr Leung had said that the payment was part of a non- poaching agreement and that the contract had allowed him to act as an adviser, but he had not done so. "From a moral point of view, there is absolutely no problem. It is a regular business transaction," said Mr Tung.

Mr Tung stepped down in 2005, nearly two years after half a million people rallied against controversial national security legislation. But he has found a second wind as an elder statesman considered to be much trusted by Beijing.

In his first public comments since the movement erupted, he urged protesters to retreat.

"One month is a long time already and the consequences of prolonging this occupation are very, very serious."

Future talks in limbo as protesters decry Hong Kong govt's offers
Remarks raise fears stalled talks could mean return to violent clashes
The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

HONG KONG - Student protesters said they may shun further talks with the government, accusing it of failing to make any meaningful offers to end weeks of pro-democracy Occupy rallies.

The comments are a blow to the city's Beijing-backed leaders who had expressed hopes for fresh rounds of talks after meeting students on Tuesday night for the first time.

The negotiations are widely seen as the only way to end nearly a month of protests without a police crackdown or further violence.

Clashes broke out yesterday afternoon when opponents tried to remove road barricades set up by the protesters in Mong Kok.

The first talks on Tuesday night made little headway, with students calling the government "vague" in its commitment to finding a genuine compromise.

"About whether there will be talks in the future, this is something that isn't decided," Hong Kong Federation of Students secretary-general Alex Chow told reporters yesterday.

"The government has to come up with some way to solve this problem, but what they are offering does not have any practical content," he said, adding that protesters will not leave the streets any time soon.

The two sides are at loggerheads over how the city's next leader should be chosen in 2017, when a direct election for the post will be introduced. Protesters want the public to have the right to nominate candidates.

But Beijing ruled in August that only those vetted by a loyalist committee would be allowed to stand - something protesters dismiss as "fake democracy".

During talks, government negotiators insisted Beijing would never agree to civil nomination.

But they made a series of conciliatory offers, including a promise to brief mainland officials on recent events and a suggestion that both sides could set up a "platform" to discuss further political reform beyond 2017.

If talks are abandoned, many fear a return to violent scuffles seen late last week. Dozens were hurt after protesters clashed with police trying to clear barriers.

Yesterday, about 70 protesters marched on the residence of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying over his recent comments that open elections would put voting power into the hands of the poor.

"We want to protect the welfare and the rights of grassroots people in Hong Kong," Mr Avery Ng, vice-president of the League of Social Democrats, said.

Police yesterday warned protesters not to use the Internet to advocate or commit crimes, saying a 23-year-old man had been arrested for threatening an officer's daughter online. They were also investigating users calling on people to occupy the city's airport.

Meanwhile, China's media continued to ratchet up the rhetoric against the protesters, saying they risk becoming foreign puppets.

A Global Times editorial linked the protests to other movements deemed hostile to the Chinese Communist Party's authority, saying: "A mix of traditional forces that are confronting the current Chinese regime, including Tibetan, Xinjiang and Taiwan separatists, falungong devotees, and pro-democracy activists, have beaten the drums for the Hong Kong protests like cheerleaders."


Tycoons would do well to throw in their lot with the poor
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

MONEY and political power have long been entwined, especially in a city like Hong Kong. It is an arrangement that can be upended by one-man, one-vote.

With unfettered elections, the poor can attain disproportionate power and exert pressure on elected leaders to produce sub-optimal, populist policies. That, at least, seemed to be the sub-text of a comment made by Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying during a media interview on Monday.

On why Hong Kong should not have fully open elections, he said that a "broadly representative" nominating committee to vet candidates is necessary; otherwise, the city's poor will dominate the electoral process.

"You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can. And if it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 (S$2,300) a month," he said.

"Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies."

Mr Leung's eyebrow-raising comment has given much fodder to critics who have long argued that Hong Kong's political system lacks accountability to the common people, and are instead geared towards protecting the city's wealthy and privileged.

This, they say, has helped give rise to deep-seated woes such as one of the widest wealth gaps in the world, high property prices and stagnant social mobility.

The thrust of Mr Leung's argument is not new. Two months ago, Tsinghua University's law dean Wang Zhenmin, who advises Beijing on Hong Kong matters, explained why the central government has to especially protect the interests of the tycoons.

"Universal suffrage means the redistribution of economic interests among society's members," he said. "We have to take care of every class, rich or poor, especially those whose slice of pie will be shared by others upon the implementation of universal suffrage."

In particular, he said, the business community "controls the destiny" of Hong Kong's economy. "If we just ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop."

Never mind the irony that a government which is communist, in name at least, is defending the privileges of Hong Kong's capitalist class of landlords. There are a few reasons why it is doing so, say analysts.

One, "red investments" belonging to Chinese princelings and state-owned enterprises in Hong Kong are at stake, says economist Francis Lui. "So if an elected government suddenly changes Hong Kong into a more socialist society with restrictive rules on, say, the free flow of capital, or a welfare state, many people in the central government wouldn't like that."

Two, beyond narrow interests is the "legitimate need" to ensure that an economy that has grown vibrant along laissez-faire principles, such as low taxes and a balanced budget, continues to thrive, argues businessman David Wong, a delegate to China's legislature, the National People's Congress.

This, he notes, is enshrined in Hong Kong's Basic Law. The nominating committee is thus "a check and balance on populist pressures". Fears are labour and welfare interests - Hong Kong has legislated a minimum wage and is now legislating standard working hours - will gain the upper hand.

Three, the problems that the poor in Hong Kong face - real as they are - cannot be so neatly pinned on the untrammelled power of big business. Other factors, including globalisation, a weak government and diverse lobbying interests, are involved too.

Their complexity is evidenced by the fact that Hong Kong's pro-democracy legislators, despite their constant sniping at the establishment, have not come up with any better proposals, points out economist Ho Lok Sang.

At the same time, Beijing's jitters seem unfounded. Will the "unwashed masses" really agitate for a race to the bottom? Such fears, says Professor Ho, are exaggerated. Safeguards are easily built in. For instance, "we can legislate so that any major policy initiatives need to be reviewed by a fiscal sustainability commission, and approved only if they are sustainable and well-founded".

The hope that a nominating committee will keep out "populist" candidates is also misguided, adds Professor Lui. Out of the initial gates, they will still have to appeal to the broad swathe of voters, to be the ultimate chosen one among the pre-selected two or three. Ultimately, the tycoons who are far-sighted will do well to throw in their lot with the poor in supporting universal suffrage, Prof Lui adds. Many have long moaned about the dysfunctional governance in Hong Kong.

"With a popular mandate from a few million people, an elected leader can do better at running the city, which benefits the tycoons as well," says Prof Lui.

Both sides refuse to budge in first round of HK talks
Officials suggest there may be room for change, but only after 2017 polls
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

THE stand-off between the government and student protesters looks set to continue, as the first talks between them ended in a predictable deadlock last night.

Both held fast to their positions, with student leader Lester Shum describing the dialogue as "a garden tour". Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, he said, "played taiji with us for two hours".

The government delegation led by Mrs Lam had sought to mollify the protesters with two concessions. It will submit a report on sentiments raised during the Occupy movement to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Council under the State Council, China's Cabinet. It will also establish a "multi- sector platform" that will include the students to discuss Hong Kong's long-term electoral developments. But she made it clear neither will have an impact on the first chief executive (CE) election in 2017 which, she said, must be held within the existing "framework" of the Aug 31 decision by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

This stipulates that a nominating committee of 1,200 members - expected to be mainly Beijing loyalists - must vet candidates before they can run for election.

Instead, Mrs Lam reiterated that there is room for changes after 2017, urging the students to look ahead to the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in 2020 and the next CE election in 2022.

But the students insisted that they want two demands satisfied: public nomination and abolition of LegCo seats elected by special interest groups.

Federation of Students leader Alex Chow described the government's proposals as "vague and illusory", and called on protesters to stay on while the movement decides on its next move.

Mrs Lam said she hopes more talks will follow, while the students said they have not decided.

Still, the fact that both sides - the officials in suits, the students in black T-shirts with the words "Freedom Now" - sat down at the same table is an improvement on tensions that have gripped the city the past 24 days, including nights of clashes between police and protesters.

Last night, some 2,000 protesters gathered at Admiralty to watch the dialogue broadcast live while smaller groups gathered at Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

Protesters appear to have dialled down expectations, with many saying they do not think public nomination is attainable. Even then, they say, there were no "genuine" concessions from the government.

Lawyer Jackie Li, 27, said: "The proposed report is nothing, it's just one among many. I will not leave until the government spells out the make-up of the nominating committee and allows elected legislators to elect its members."

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying said in an interview yesterday that there may be room to make the committee "more democratic".

But a mainland analyst told The Straits Times that the talks are not expected to achieve much real progress, using the Chinese idiom: "A chicken talking to a duck". He said that while there is indeed room for negotiation in areas like the specific composition of the nominating committee, these are mere "technical issues".

"The crux is that Beijing will never back down from its position that it will not allow a member of the pro-democracy camp to run for election."

Poor would sway vote in free polls: Leung
The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's leader Leung Chun Ying said open elections would result in the city's army of poor residents dominating politics, as he ruled out democratic reforms hours before crucial talks aimed at ending three weeks of protest rallies.

In the interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and International New York Times, the embattled Chief Executive said free elections were impossible.

Mr Leung, whose resignation has been sought by protesters, said that if leadership candidates were nominated by the public, then the largest sector of society - the city's poor - would likely dominate the electoral process.

The protests are taking place against a backdrop of rising inequality and soaring housing costs which leave many young people with little prospect of renting, let alone buying, their own homes in a city with one of Asia's widest wealth gaps.

Analysts and democracy lawmakers said Mr Leung's comments on the poor were likely to inflame tensions further. "It reflects the distrust the authorities have of the people... and it also reflects how the current political system is biased for the rich and against the poor," said pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung.

Law professor Surya Deva of the City University of Hong Kong said "the situation might get worse" if the government continues to deny concessions to democracy protesters.

"Why should poor Hong Kong people follow laws and believe in the rule of law when they have no hope for political or economic empowerment?"

Mr Leung said one round of dialogue may not solve all the problems but "to be able to hold talks is a good start". But in a veiled threat to protesters, he also hinted that China's patience could run out.

"So far, Beijing has left it to the Hong Kong government to deal with the situation, so I think we should try our very best - and this is myself, the government and the people of Hong Kong - should try our very best to stay that way," he said.


HK court bans occupying of roads to avoid 'riot'
Pessimism over today's talks between govt and student leaders
The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's High Court has issued interim injunctions banning pro-democracy protesters from occupying a road in Mong Kok district and a section of Admiralty.

Police said the assembly at the Mong Kok site could veer into "a riot".

"Mong Kok remains a high-risk area," said chief superintendent of police public relations Hui Chun Tak yesterday. "The illegal assembly is on the verge of turning into a riot."

Mong Kok has been the scene of some of the worst violence since the demonstrations began. Police used batons, shields and pepper spray last Friday and Saturday after crowds estimated at 9,000 poured into the streets to take back areas that had been cleared.

On Oct 3, at least 37 people were injured after hundreds of men attacked demonstrators in the area.

The injunctions came ahead of talks today between the student protest leaders and the government intended to end three weeks of stalemate.

Mini-bus and taxi operators have also filed for injunctions that would reopen the paralysed roads in Mong Kok.

Judge Jeremy Poon of the Court of First Instance said the occupying of roads has continued for a long time and caused public nuisance and "inconvenience".

The orders are effective immediately, reported the South China Morning Post.

A deepening sense of impasse has gripped Hong Kong as the protests entered their fourth week.

Hopes of easing the worst political crisis in Hong Kong since Britain handed the free-wheeling city back to China in 1997 rest on the talks between the government and protest leaders, which will be broadcast live.

But few are expecting any resolution, given that the two sides are poles apart on how the city should elect its next leader in 2017. "Unless there is some kind of breakthrough in... talks on Tuesday, I'm worried we will see the stand-off worsen and get violent," said Professor Sonny Lo of the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

"We could be entering a new and much more problematic stage. I hope the government has worked out some compromises, because things could get very difficult now."

Students want free elections but China insists on screening candidates first.

Pro-democracy leaders yesterday angrily rejected claims by the city's Chief Executive that "external forces" are orchestrating their rallies. In a television interview broadcast on Sunday evening, Mr Leung Chun Ying blamed foreign forces for the protests but refused to identify them.

The city's US consulate also hit out at the claims, according to the South China Morning Post.

"What is happening in Hong Kong is about the people of Hong Kong, and any assertion otherwise is an attempt to distract from the issue at hand," the paper quoted consulate spokesman Scott Robinson as saying.


China terms HK protests as drive for independence
Move strengthens govt hand in talks with students today
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

WHEN Hong Kong marked China's National Day on Oct 1, a few student activists including Joshua Wong turned their backs on the Chinese flag being hoisted during an official celebratory ceremony.

Their defiant gesture was noted 2,000km away in Beijing, as was the rallying cry, "Masters of our destiny", inscribed on a stage backdrop at the main protest site in Admiralty. So, too, were slogans such as "Our own Hong Kong, we will save it ourselves".

What appear, to outsiders, to be mere expressions to assert one's identity as a Hong Konger and for the right to elect one's leader, are being interpreted by Beijing as something more nefarious: that the protest movement is aimed at achieving "Hong Kong independence".

The dire warning appeared in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily on Sunday. "What they (the organisers) want is not the democracy of election... but Hong Kong's 'self-rule', Hong Kong's 'self-determination' and even Hong Kong's 'independence'," charged a commentary signed by a writer with the pseudonym Yi Min (One People).

Defining the movement's goals as such - clearly a major national security problem - is part of a strategy that serves multiple functions, say analysts and observers familiar with Beijing's thinking.

First, such sound and fury will strengthen the Hong Kong government's hand in talks today with student protesters, as a warning on how seriously the central government is viewing the protests. Few though think it heralds a tough approach in the form of a brutal military crackdown, at least for now.

Second, in the long run, it will likely be "an excuse to shrink the space" for the one-country two-systems framework, notes one connected mainland observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

By branding the pro-democracy movement as one agitating for independence, ground is being laid for the re-introduction of controversial legislation, including the Article 23 national security law and even party financing rules, to "better control the troublemakers" within.

Third, it is aimed at mainland audiences, including those who may sympathise with the protesters.

Protest organisers have stressed that they are not challenging the central government but are just calling for greater democratic freedoms.

But to Beijing, their demands for China's Parliament - the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) - to rescind its Aug 31 decision on Hong Kong's chief executive election, and for the Beijing-appointed Leung Chun Ying to resign as Chief Executive, are tantamount to a rejection of its authority over Hong Kong.

Professor Zhang Tongxin of Beijing's Renmin University said: "This protest movement is to achieve independence, step by step.

"First, they protest. Then they occupy the streets. And then they want to challenge the NPCSC decision - which is to challenge the Basic Law. And if you do that, it's clearly to get Hong Kong independence. It is a scam."

Another analyst said: "Even if there is no territorial independence, the protesters want Beijing at such arm's length it is like political independence."

Such worries are exacerbated by the belief that the Occupy movement is being instigated by "external forces" keen to undermine China.

On Sunday, Mr Leung said "external forces... from different countries from different parts of the world" are involved.

It echoed charges levelled by state media and by Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang who, two weeks ago, characterised the movement as a "colour revolution" in which Western powers are fomenting the overthrow of the Chinese system.

Yesterday, pro-Beijiing Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po added to the "body of evidence".

It published an e-mail purporting to reveal that the Hong Kong America Centre (HKAC), a non- profit educational institute at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, had in May gifted the latest iPhone 6 to "at least 16 core members" of the Occupy movement, including Mr Wong. This is so "external forces can better control and direct the key figures in the Occupy movement".

HKAC executive director Morton Holbrook yesterday called the article "completely false, a total and 100 per cent fabrication".

"Our centre has had no contact with the Occupy movement or its leaders, much less have we ever provided iPhones or other supplies to them."

And on his Facebook page, Mr Wong wrote: "My links with foreign countries are limited to my Korean mobile phone, my American computer and my Japanese Gundam (animated robots)... And of course, all of these are 'Made in China'."

China's media slams HK rallies as an independence movement
By Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2014

OFFICIAL rhetoric has escalated against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong which entered their fourth week, with Chinese state media lambasting the rallies as an "independence" movement.

Similarly, Hong Kong officials took a stronger line, accusing the protesters of fomenting "purposeful" violence and of acting under the instigation of "external forces", after fresh clashes erupted in Mong Kok over the weekend.

The tensions have cast a pall over talks scheduled for tomorrow between the Hong Kong government and student protesters.

A commentary in the China Daily yesterday described Occupy Central's organisers and those "controlling from behind the scenes" as conspiring to get independence for Hong Kong, by pushing "innocent" students and Hong Kongers to the front line.

"What they (the organisers) want is not the democracy of election... but Hong Kong's 'self- rule', Hong Kong's 'self- determination' and even Hong Kong's 'independence'," it said.

Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang recently accused Western countries of supporting forces trying to foment a "colour revolution", a reference to uprisings elsewhere which were started to bring about regime change.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying reaffirmed this point last night, saying that there were "external forces" involved and that this was not "entirely a domestic movement".

Speaking to local ATV station in only his second interview since the protests started on Sept 28, Mr Leung said the forces were "from different countries in different parts of the world", but declined to elaborate further.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have joined the protests over China's restrictions on who can stand in the city's next leadership election in 2017.

The scheduled talks were meant to have a calming effect, but have instead led to fresh clashes in Mong Kok after police cleared the site there last Friday.

Yesterday, the chief superintendent of the police force's public relations branch, Mr Hui Chun Tak, said "troublemakers" within the protesters' ranks had "planned" to charge police lines in Mong Kok.

Twenty-four people were injured and four arrested. Mr Hui also defended the use of batons, saying the protesters had used their umbrellas to hit officers.

Separately, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing Man said there "seems to be evidence pointing to purposeful violence".

As Hong Kong counts down to the high-stakes talks, Mr Leung acknowledged in the ATV interview that he has "to do more in communicating" with the public.

HK govt, protesters to meet on Tuesday

Each side to send five people to the talks; students reclaim sit-in site after police clear it

By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

Talks between the Hong Kong government and student protest organisers will take place on Tuesday, a move that assumes additional urgency following clashes yesterday morning in Mong Kok.

In a rowdy tango that is becoming all too familiar in the three-week-long movement, protesters managed to reclaim a key sit-in site along Nathan Road, just hours after police had cleared it.

Crowds overwhelmed police cordons despite the use of pepper spray and batons, and retook a section of the major thoroughfare, once again stopping the flow of traffic.

A total of 26 people, including a foreign photographer from Getty Images, were arrested and 15 police officers were injured, said the police.

The affray follows a distinct pattern in this saga, where police actions in trying to clear the barricades largely ricochet, with protesters returning to recover their old sites or to seek out new spaces for their cause.

The latest developments highlight the limitations of the government's strategy of trying to wear down the movement by depending on police actions, protester fatigue and public resentment. There is, thus, more pressure than ever to hold talks to resolve the issue.

Occupy Central organiser Chan Kin Man, criticising the government for taking so long, said: "We don't want policemen and young people to get hurt because this is not a public order problem, it's a political problem... and should be solved by political means."

The government had cancelled an initial round of talks two weeks ago, after students threatened to escalate protests if their demands were not met.

In a renewed effort to return to the table, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam yesterday announced that both the government and the Hong Kong Federation of Students will each dispatch five people.

The dialogue, to be broadcast live, will last for about two hours and will be moderated by Lingnan University president Leonard Cheng, who is known to be close to Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, having been a member of his election campaign team.

"The government's work on political reform has to be based on the Basic Law and the national legislature's decision. I'm happy to listen to other opinions based on this foundation," Ms Lam said, referring to Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

But it is doubtful as to what extent the negotiation can help resolve the stand-off.

Mr Leung also said that the talks must take place within the constitutional framework announced on Aug 31 by the country's legislature, the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

This stipulates that there be a nominating committee of 1,200 people, from four pre-determined sectors, to vet candidates for the chief executive election, slated for 2017. Successful candidates must get at least half the votes.

Given that pro-democracy candidates in the past could muster only about 15 per cent of the votes in similarly formed committees, this means only Beijing-approved ones are likely to get through.

The pro-democracy protesters, thus, want Beijing to rescind the decision, and to introduce public nomination.

Yesterday, black-clad student protester Icy Chow, 19, who had been at the Mong Kok site since the beginning of the Occupy movement and had returned last Friday night "to take it back", said the protesters know that it is unlikely Beijing will yield.

"We can compromise," she said with a grin. "If no public nomination, how about a nominating committee of three million people?"

That is a shade under the 3.8 million eligible Hong Kong voters in 2012's Legislative Council elections.

The melee in Mong Kok began last Friday evening, when crowds gathered.

In parts of the road that the police did not secure, they forced vehicles to detour and some began sitting down in the middle of the tarmac. Others broke through police cordons, shoving officers to the ground, said the police.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok criticised the protesters' actions, saying yesterday: "I note that the confrontation last night was initiated by some activists of known radical organisations which have been active in conspiring, planning and carrying out violent acts."

He did not name the organisations.

While stores along Nathan Road, mainly jewellery chains, yesterday seemed to continue with brisk business, some smaller shops lamented the return of the protesters.

Said Ms Wing Tang, a manager of a watch shop: "What has hurt us most is not so much the stoppage of traffic, but the fights between protesters and anti-Occupy protesters, because that scares the tourists away."

Mong Kok stand-off

Police use pepper spray to reclaim protest site but demonstrators later regroup; student leaders say action an obstacle to dialogue
By Teo Cheng Wee Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

CLASHES broke out in Mong Kok last night as Hong Kong police used pepper spray and batons to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to reclaim lost ground at the major protest site.

At press time, about 200 police officers, wearing helmets and bearing shields, were locked in a tense stand-off with some 1,000 protesters.

Several protesters were seen being handcuffed and hauled into police vans. "Triads, triads," other protesters chanted, targeting the men in blue.

The confrontation capped what had been a tense day in Mong Kok, a densely populated area crammed with residential blocks, retail shops and eateries. 

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of central Hong Kong since Sept 28 to protest against China's restrictions on who can stand in the city's next leadership election in 2017.

In a pre-dawn operation yesterday, the police were able to clear the roads in Mong Kok, occupied for the past three weeks by protesters. The police met with little resistance as they took down barricades, tents and banners in the area and reopened Argyle Street and the north-bound lane of Nathan Road to traffic.

This came after the partial clearance of two other major protest sites - Admiralty and Causeway Bay - earlier this week.

"I hope the radical protesters can understand that (the) police operation to remove obstacles served to reduce the impact of the illegal occupation on traffic and the public's daily lives," Chief Superintendent of police public relations Hui Chun Tak said at a press conference yesterday. "Police have the duty to protect the public's right to use the roads."

According to reports to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority from banks as at noon, all previously affected bank branches have resumed normal operations.

But organisers of the Occupy movement slammed the Mong Kok operation, which came just a day after the government's offer to reopen talks was accepted by student leaders.

They said in a statement that it was an "obstacle to dialogue" which will "provoke more citizens to take to the streets, add to anxiety in society, and is not a way to break the current deadlock".

The Hong Kong Federation of Students issued a statement criticising the authorities and calling for talks with the government to be held before Wednesday.

Soon after the Mong Kok site was cleared, at least 300 protesters reportedly regrouped, staging a sit-in on the southbound lane of Nathan Road. Police appealed to them to use a designated area of of the pavement, but to no avail.

Appeals sent out on the Internet later asked people to gather at Mong Kok at night.

"If Mong Kok is lost, Admiralty will be in danger," student protest leader Joshua Wong wrote on Twitter last night.

Admiralty, located near the Hong Kong government's headquarters, is the main protest site.

"If we lose any one site," he said, "the morale of the campaign will surely be severely affected."

HK police's reputation as respected force takes a beating
By Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

HONG KONG - In the 1985 Hong Kong action thriller Police Story, Jackie Chan's policeman character Chan Ka Kui hangs off a bus, slides five storeys down a pole surrounded by light bulbs and drives a car through a shanty town, all in the name of fighting baddies.

While real-life police action here is not quite as action-packed, such crime-fighting classics have immortalised the heroic policeman in local folklore.

In the past month, however, the city's 28,000-strong police force has been fighting a different kind of battle. Its hard-earned reputation as an efficient, respected force has been battered as it struggled to handle the biggest and most protracted public protests the city has seen in decades.

"Hong Kongers generally trust the police. But after Sept 28, that changed," said Hong Kong Institute of Education's Dr Lawrence Ho, who specialises in police studies. On that day, police fired 87 tear gas canisters at pro-democracy protesters, shocking a city used to peaceful demonstrations and triggering mass street rallies.

On Wednesday, the police came under fire again, when a video showed seven officers beating up a handcuffed activist as he lay on the ground. The seven were suspended after protesters rallied outside the Wan Chai police headquarters chanting "black cops!", associating them with the triads.

The incidents are a serious blow to a force dubbed "Asia's finest" following a remarkable transformation from an organisation notorious for graft in the 1960s.

The game-changer took place in 1974, when the British colonial government set up the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which reduced corruption and increased public trust. Effective community policing has also been credited for bringing constables closer to the people.

Hong Kong's crime rates today are among the lowest in the world, with eight robberies per 100,000 people in 2012, compared with 243 in New York and 789 for Paris, according to government figures.

While the older generation appreciate the lower crime rates, younger Hong Kongers are less impressed, Dr Ho noted. Instead, they have come to associate the police force with the Hong Kong government and Beijing, and see its officers as doing the latter's bidding. The police force's approval ratings, taken once every six months, have fallen from over 80 per cent in 2007 to under 60 per cent in the first half of this year.

"The police have had to deal with increased instances of public protests in recent years, as the economies of China and Hong Kong become more integrated, leading to greater inflation, cultural conflict and mistrust of authorities," Dr Ho said. "They don't see the police as being on their side."

Protesters have accused the police of repeatedly turning a blind eye despite provocation by anti- Occupy groups and hired thugs, a charge the police have denied.

But political analyst Joseph Cheng says many Hong Kongers are also sympathetic, particularly towards front-line police and the long hours they have to put in during this period. When the police cleared the Mong Kok protest site yesterday, appreciative members of the public applauded them.

The challenge for Hong Kong's police is they are public servants caught in a political situation, commentator Alex Lo noted in the South China Morning Post yesterday. "Officers are not trained to worry about politics," he wrote. "This crisis needs a political settlement, not a police clearance."

HK govt stands its ground but offers to resume talks
Student leaders agree to dialogue but analysts not hopeful of a compromise
By Teo Cheng Wee, Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2014

HONG KONG'S government and student protesters are set to reopen talks, even as the administration insists that negotiations must be held within the city's constitutional framework.

Leaders from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) agreed to a dialogue with the government last night, following an announcement earlier in the day by Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying that the government hoped to meet students after talks were called off last week.

However, Hong Kong's commitment to Beijing's rules for the 2017 chief executive election means it will be hard to reach a compromise, analysts say.

Mr Leung said the government has, in the past few days, been reaching out to HKFS through "middlemen", whom he did not name. "An early meeting between the two parties is in line with expectations of the community," he said yesterday, suggesting that a university vice-chancellor could act as a moderator for the talks.

HKFS secretary-general Alex Chow responded hours later, saying that the group will talk to the government and reflect the requests of the people.

Mr Leung said the government is also working to restore public order and traffic flow across Hong Kong and start the second round of public consultation on electoral reform before the end of the year.

The offer of new talks came after a two-day spike in violence between police and the protesters, as they battled over a series of barricades near the government's besieged headquarters in Admiralty.

Thousands of Hong Kongers have taken to the streets since Sept 28, after China's National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee decided on Aug 31 that candidates for the first directly elected chief executive will be screened by a nominating panel, which will likely pick only pro-Beijing candidates. But protesters want public nominations.

Mr Leung said yesterday that requesting a reversal of the NPC's decision, or the changing of Hong Kong's Basic Law, is "not practical" and that the various parties have to "draw a line between possibilities and impossibilities".

"The most constructive thing that the Hong Kong government can offer the students is to sit down and listen to the students (about) what we can do together under the framework," he said.

Political analyst Ma Ngok from the Chinese University of Hong Kong feels HKFS can benefit from talks, given that there are signs in recent days that it is losing control of the movement. "More radical elements have been using more confrontational methods."

Mr Leung yesterday also defended the police, saying they have worked hard and shown "maximum tolerance" under pressure. He said the authorities will investigate impartially the alleged assault of activist Ken Tsang by seven policemen on Wednesday. The seven have been suspended.

Others have no right to meddle: China
By Rachel Chang In Beijing, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2014

AS WESTERN countries express increasing support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, China has warned that "other nations have no right to interfere in any shape or form".

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said this line twice yesterday at a regular press briefing. He was responding to reporters' questions on the United States' call for a "swift, transparent and complete" investigation into allegations of Hong Kong police beating up a protester and British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to "stand up for the rights" of Hong Kongers.

"Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. No foreign government or individual has the right to make indiscreet remarks or criticisms on this issue," he said. As for Mr Cameron's remarks, he said Hong Kongers' basic rights and freedoms have been fully protected since the city's handover to China in 1997.

Meanwhile, state media editorials have escalated their rhetoric decrying Western influence over the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, which Beijing has characterised as a "colour revolution" backed by the Western powers.

The Global Times yesterday warned the protesters not to turn Hong Kong into "a boxing ring between the West and China".

Analysts said that in the scheme of China's relationships with Western powers, the Hong Kong protests are a small matter and none involved wants them to affect the substance of bilateral ties. The sharp rhetoric from Beijing, Washington and London are all partly directed at home audiences, they noted, with the West making a stand against China to ward off domestic criticism.

For China's part, "it's emphasising outside influence now firstly to warn young protesters in Hong Kong not to go too far, and secondly to shift attention from its own handling of the issue", said Renmin University analyst Jin Canrong.

Violence by HK police refuels public anger
Crowd hostility mounts following film footage of police beating protester
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2014

A PROTESTER sloshes an unknown liquid onto the police. Six plainclothes officers promptly handcuff the man, before dragging him into a dark corner. There, with two keeping an eye out, they take turns kicking him.

The four-minute long incident early yesterday morning, captured on camera by local broadcaster TVB, has refuelled public anger over the police's actions in the ongoing crisis. This could lead to the police facing an even more hostile crowd in trying to bring the sit-in to an end.

China yesterday blocked the BBC's website after a video of the beating went viral online.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying and Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok yesterday said investigations into the officers' conduct are under way, in accordance with procedures for complaints.

Meanwhile, they are being removed from their current duties.

This did not assuage the fury, with a crowd gathering last night outside the police headquarters in Wan Chai, chanting "Triads!"

The government yesterday defended the police's actions during the protests, with Mr Lai saying the much-criticised use of tear gas on the first day was justified.

Addressing the legislature in its first sitting since the crisis erupted on Sept 28, he described "deliberate" and "incessant" charging by protesters at a police cordon at Harcourt Road.

If tear gas had not been used, the cordon would have been broken and "the dire consequence of a stampede involving a large number of falls, trampling accidents, serious injuries or even fatalities was highly probable".

Meanwhile, a senior Chinese official here said the Hong Kong police have been professional and restrained, noting that police officers in Ferguson, the United States, are now in the spotlight for shooting unarmed citizens.

The official, who briefed foreign media here on condition of anonymity, also elaborated on recent comments by Beijing officials describing the Hong Kong movement as a "colour revolution".

"From what I observed, if you look at how it's been planned, organised, with its slogans and actions, it's obvious this has a tinge of a colour revolution," she said.

"Colour revolution" refers to non-violent uprisings in the former Soviet Union in the 2000s.

Asked what led to the conclusion that Hong Kong's Occupy movement is supported by Western powers, the official argued it is obvious. "From the statement and rhetoric of outside forces, of some parliamentarians, such interference certainly exists."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that Britain should stand up for the rights of people in the former British colony.

Asia's richest man Li Ka Shing, in his first comments on the protest movement, called on the students to retreat, saying: "Do not let today's passion turn to tomorrow's regrets!"

He urged them to "have hope" that China's leaders "remain determined on the route of reform and opening up". If the rule of law is broken in Hong Kong, he added, that will be "its greatest sorrow".

China state media shows support for chief exec Leung
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2014

A DAY after Hong Kong police cleared protest sites and arrested protesters, China's state media has lost no time in expressing support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

A front-page commentary in the People's Daily yesterday accused protesters of spinning rumours to topple "the Chief Executive trusted by the central government" so as to compel Beijing to give in to their demands.

The official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also said the protesters are trying to stage a "colour revolution" in Hong Kong, using a term for civil resistance movements that have overthrown regimes such as Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004.

The Hong Kong protesters had worn yellow ribbons and carried umbrellas which became symbols of their movement.

"But they've picked the wrong location and are destined to fail," added the commentary.

The last time the Hong Kong protests made it to the CCP mouthpiece's front page was when three commentaries were run on consecutive days on Oct 2-4 that defended Beijing's policy towards the Special Administrative Region.

Analysts say the commentary yesterday reflects Beijing's desire to underscore its support for Mr Leung and to show that it adheres to the "one country, two systems" model under which the Hong Kong government has the authority to deal with the situation. Beijing's support is also timely for Mr Leung amid latest reports of his declining public ratings since the protest began on Sept 28.

According to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post yesterday, Mr Leung's popularity rating as of Oct 9 was 40.6 per cent, lower than that of his subordinates like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. It is nearing the historic low of 36 per cent for the first Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa in July 2003.

"Beijing does genuinely believe in him and wants him to handle the protests through proper, lawful measures," said Professor Chen Guanghan, who heads a Hong Kong and Macau research centre at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

"Of course, where there is support, there are also responsibilities, especially if the situation is not handled properly."

Separately, the mainland yesterday also rebuked Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou for his remarks last week in support of the Hong Kong protests and that China should "let some people go democratic first".

"The Taiwan side should not make irresponsible remarks about this," said spokesman Fan Liqing of China's Taiwan Affairs Office at a regular briefing, stressing that China was "resolutely opposed" to comments from Taiwan about either Hong Kong or China's political system.

Battle to clear HK blockades takes an edgy twist
Police use chainsaws, pepper spray; protesters holding out in Mong Kok
By Li Xueying and Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2014

RIOT police used pepper spray and detained several people in Admiralty last night, after some protesters rushed onto a road in an apparent attempt to blockade it.

Umbrellas were once again unfurled and protesters donned face masks, in readiness for a confrontation. The police later retreated.

At press time, hundreds of people had streamed over from the main protest site at nearby Harcourt Road.

The latest development came only hours after police dismantled barricades in the city's business district with chainsaws and sledgehammers in the morning to reopen the roads to traffic.

By noon, cars, buses and trams were back on Queensway, a major road in Admiralty linking Wan Chai and Central. It is adjacent to Harcourt Road, which remains occupied by the protesters. About 1,000 people were still there last night, as the sit-in entered its 17th day.

In Causeway Bay, police also removed obstacles on Hennessy Road near Sogo department store, forcing scores of protesters to cluster within a tight spot on Yee Wo Street.

This leaves only the protest site in Mong Kok, Kowloon. Yesterday, police spokesman Hui Chun Tak made it clear the police will move there "soon". However, they may find the protesters at Mong Kok a tribe unto themselves. The protesters do not answer to student leaders in Admiralty. Confrontations have broken out frequently in Mong Kok.

Mr Hui stressed that the operations are not aimed at clearing out the protesters "at this time". But he added that the police "will make an announcement beforehand so that the illegal road occupiers can have time to leave".

The police action came soon after Beijing struck a hardline tone on events in Hong Kong.

Vice-Premier Wang Yang, in remarks last Saturday but reported in Hong Kong media yesterday, likened the Occupy movement to a "colour revolution" that is being supported by Western countries.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, meanwhile, reiterated that the status quo cannot continue for long.

Altercations with anti-Occupy protesters have also increased, with Undersecretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui saying public sentiment has reached a "breaking point".

A cluster of taxi and truck drivers besieged barricades in Admiralty along with suspected triad members on Monday, after the police tried to clear the barricades that morning.

A total of 23 men aged 16 to 54 were arrested. Thirteen were arrested for disorder in a public place; two for possession of offensive weapons; four for common assault; three for theft; and one for obstructing police officers.

As the police again dismantled barricades of wooden planks, bamboo poles and dustbins that student protesters had put up overnight on Queensway, an anguished protester yelled at the officers: "Why are the police doing this? We need this to protect us from the triads!"

The drivers have threatened to surround the protest sites again tonight if these are not cleared by then.

Mr Hui called on those objecting to the protesters to refrain from confrontation or violence.

Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Alex Chow yesterday said as long as the government continued to ignore their call for talks, they would urge protesters to maintain the street blockades.

Talks scheduled for last Friday were called off at the last minute by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. The protesters have demanded that Mr Leung resign and that Beijing rescind its strict rules on the chief executive election.

Protests a 'colour revolution' backed by the West, says Beijing
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2014

BEIJING has stepped up its rhetoric against the Occupy movement in Hong Kong, characterising it as a "colour revolution" being supported by Western forces to undermine the Chinese government - a charge both the United States and protest leaders have denied.

Vice-Premier Wang Yang, in remarks reported in Hong Kong media yesterday, accused Western countries of "supporting the opposition forces trying to foment a colour revolution in Hong Kong".

"Colour revolution" is used to describe a wave of uprisings that took place to bring about regime change, such as the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union until the latter broke up in 1991.

Following up on Mr Wang's remarks, retired senior official Chen Zuo'er, who negotiated with the British prior to Hong Kong's return to China, told reporters in Beijing of a "major conspiracy" behind the Occupy movement. He quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi as saying the root of the unrest in Hong Kong lay in the US.

Both men did not specify what had led them to their conclusion, but Beijing has long harboured suspicions that Hong Kong - given its colonial past and history as a place of refuge for political dissidents - could be used as a base to subvert the central government.

China historian Steve Tsang said the remarks of the Vice-Premier, who has a "liberal" image, are significant as they "send a strong signal" that the Communist Party sees the movement as challenging its authority.

Political scientist Peter Cheung added: "It is the highest order of warning to the protesters, that they are being viewed as antagonistic and even as an enemy."

What this means, he surmises, is that Beijing is sitting on the Hong Kong government to end the sit-in - into its 17th day - as soon as possible. Talks are the likeliest, but he does not rule out the use of force.

Pro-establishment Hong Kong legislators are falling in line. Today, they will ask the Legislative Council (LegCo) to investigate the movement's sources of funding.

Mr Tam Yiu Chung, leader of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told The Straits Times that a working group of lawmakers will invite protest leaders to answer queries. But due to the LegCo schedule, it might happen only next year.

On what gave rise to suspicions about the movement's funding, he said: "Many say it's from donations but some overseas media say it's from the Americans."

Another legislator, former security secretary Regina Ip, pointed to "trucks moving the barricades", tents and food, and the use of "advanced IT" such as the innovative FireChat app by the protesters. "There is some very sophisticated organisation behind the scenes," she said. When asked if she believes the US is involved, she would only say: "I don't want to cause any diplomatic incident."

Some cite the presence of the National Endowment Fund, a non-governmental organisation funded by the US Congress to "strengthen democratic institutions". According to its 2012 report, the fund spent US$460,000 (S$585,000) to, among other things, "develop the capacity of citizens - particularly university students - to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform".

Washington and protesters deny any US involvement.

"We categorically reject accusations that we are manipulating the activities of any person, group, or political party in Hong Kong," a US consulate spokesman said.

Federation of Students spokesman Yvonne Leung denies it has received US funding, while its leader Alex Chow told reporters that the Vice-Premier has "gotten the wrong meaning" of the movement, which is to "secure democracy" for Hong Kong, not to overthrow the Chinese government.

Beijing's national security concerns grew especially after the 1989 Tiananmen incident, which saw Hong Kongers not only supporting pro-democracy protesters, but also helping spirit student leaders out of the country.

Said Professor Tsang: "If one starts off believing that a patriotic Chinese must support the party, and you see someone who does not, is it so far-fetched to see that person as being unpatriotic or used by some anti-China Western conspirators, or both?"

Over the past year, Beijing allies here became more voluble in airing their concerns as Occupy Central drew nearer.

Leaks to pro-Beijing media revealed that Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai cultivated ties with US politicians and made donations to the pan-democracy camp. In an "expose" on 18-year-old Scholarism leader Joshua Wong, the Wen Wei Po said the US spotted him as a "political superstar" when he was 15. He was picked, it added, because he is from a Christian family and his father is a member of a pro-democracy party.

A mainland government researcher wonders how the teenager could "plan such an operation without external help".

Protesters called the charges of foreign support ridiculous.

"Nobody paid us," said marketing manager Connie Kwok, 40. "We are happy to see our young generation stand up."

HK activists running low on support, but vow to stay put
Clashes with anti-Occupy groups erupt amid growing backlash
By Li Xueying and Pearl Liu, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2014

"BEASTS!" shouted the old man with a grey ponytail, directing his rage at Occupy protesters.

"Not opening!" they roared back, in reference to the road.

Yesterday's shouting match between the two sides, separated by a cordon of stony-faced police officers in the shadow of the Bank of China Tower in Queensway, erupted amid a growing backlash against the Occupy protest, now into its 16th day.

Public sympathy for the mostly young protesters and their cause, especially after the police used tear gas on them on Sept 28, began to wane a week later, as blockaded major roads caused disruption to daily lives and livelihoods.

Those who oppose the Occupy movement include pro-Beijing groups who are happy with the status quo of limited democracy, as well as "realists" who worry that the students' intransigence may lead Beijing to further tighten its control over Hong Kong.

But it is the first group - or at least those who cited disruption to their lives - which has been the most vocal in its opposition.

A cluster of 14 taxi, minibus and lorry groups said it would seek a court injunction to bar Occupy leaders from blocking major roads.

Mr Eddie Wong, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association, previously told The Straits Times that cabbies' daily takings of about HK$800 (S$130) had fallen by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

On Sunday, about 30 members of the Construction Industry Employees General Union - a member of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions - marched to Admiralty to urge the students to end their protest, the South China Morning Post reported.

The anti-Occupy Blue Ribbon Movement has threatened to surround the protest sites unless these are dismantled by tonight.

But the protesters yesterday vowed to stay put, with many saying their willpower has been reinforced by the "attacks".

Groups of men, many dressed in black and donning disposable face masks, had turned up at the barricades in Queensway at 1.30pm yesterday.

Some started using cutters to slash the cables holding the barriers together.

A few police officers at the scene tried to stop them. More skirmishes broke out as student protesters shouting "there are triads here!" ran from the main protest site in Harcourt Road.

One of them, freelance designer Edward Wong, 25, pointing to some of the men, said: "Those who wear masks and look very tough seem like triad members. But we will not feel scared and will not leave!"

At the same time, an entourage of 12 taxis converged at the site, their drivers emerging to rail at the protesters to "open the roads".

The latest development comes as the police investigated claims that 200 gang members, believed to be from two major triads, had infiltrated the camps of pro-democracy protesters in Mong Kok a week ago.

By yesterday evening, calm had been restored as the protesters began rebuilding the barricades and standing guard over Queensway.

Over in Harcourt Road, yet more people streamed in, eager to show their support. More than 1,500 had gathered by 8pm.

City University student Edwin Lam, 25, believes the clashes in the afternoon will motivate more people to turn up in support, citing the office workers who had witnessed the altercations.

"The final victory will belong to us."

'Almost zero chance' of Beijing accepting protesters' demands
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2014

Otherwise, warned the young student leaders, "there will only be more citizens, disillusioned with our corrupted institutions, marching and protesting, as long as no genuine democracy is practised in this place".

But Mr Leung said there is "almost zero chance" that Beijing will accede to their demands, such as calling on the National People's Congress to retract its strict rules on the chief executive election and insisting on public nomination.

A return to the table for talks with the protesters, thus, appears unlikely, he indicated.

In an interview with local broadcaster TVB aired yesterday, Mr Leung made his first lengthy public remarks on the crisis, reiterating that he will not be resigning as the protesters want, as this "will not solve the problem".

He added that he is confident the sit-in "cannot go on for a long time", pointing to its organic nature and lack of leadership.

Meanwhile, construction workers and a drivers' union have challenged the students to end their protests, warning them to dismantle the barricades as it was affecting their work, reported wire agencies.

In what has become a colour-coded battle, the pro-government Blue Ribbon Movement has threatened to surround the protest sites of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, unless the authorities dismantle them by tomorrow night.

The number of protesters at the sit-in has dwindled. Last night, just around 1,000 people were milling about at the main protest site in Admiralty.

But adding an element of unpredictability, protest organisers have warned that they may escalate their actions by, for example, blockading government buildings, if the government refuses to meet them for talks on political reform.

They yesterday pooh-poohed Mr Leung's remarks, with student leader Lester Shum dismissing them as a "delaying tactic".

In the letter to Mr Xi, the protest organisers sought to underscore that their movement "is definitely not a colour revolution or its like, but rather a movement for democracy".

This followed a commentary in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily last Friday that accused the United States of being behind the movement.

In a statement to The Straits Times yesterday, US consulate-general spokesman Scott Robinson denied this, saying: "We categorically reject accusations that we are manipulating the activities of any person, group, or political party in Hong Kong.

"What is happening in Hong Kong is about the people of Hong Kong, and any assertion otherwise is an attempt to distract from the issue at hand."

Calm prevails on second weekend of HK protests
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Sunday Times, 12 Oct 2014

Hong Kong's pro-democracy protest sites were relatively quiet yesterday, dousing hope among protest leaders that the more than 10,000-strong turnout on Friday night was a sign that the movement would resurge.

In contrast to the scenes of tense, angry thousands on the streets last weekend, a festive, carnival-like atmosphere dominated at the main protest site in Admiralty through the day and in the night. The crowd size reached several thousand at night.

In Mongkok, where more than 50 were hurt in violence between protesters and "anti-protest" groups last weekend, all was calm. What piqued onlookers' curiosity was the appearance of some individuals wearing green ribbons, which they reportedly said stood for peace between the warring camps. The protesters wore yellow ribbons while the anti-protest groups had worn blue ones.

Yesterday was the 14th day of the stand-off between protesters and the authorities.

Protesters have sealed off main thoroughfares in the Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok areas, and the government says it will not talk to them until they stop using the blockades as a bargaining chip.

Speaking to reporters in Guangzhou where she was attending a forum and trade fair yesterday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said she believed that the "goal and nature" of any talks had to be clear before they are entered into.

The protesters want free election of the Chief Executive.

More signs of normality returned in the second weekend of the protest, as tram service resumed in Happy Valley after protesters allowed eight empty trams to cross through the sealed-off Queensway early yesterday morning.

At Admiralty during the day yesterday, the number of gawking tourists and curious locals almost matched that of student protesters emerging from the tents in which they had spent the night.

Students studied at tables set up over road dividers, painted banners and gave visitors origami lessons in folding their signature yellow umbrella.

Singaporean tourist Clara Tan, 28, said she had made sure to stop by the protest site on her weekend trip to the city.

The owner of online vintage clothes shop WOM Shop said that the peacefulness surprised her.

"People are singing acoustic Canto pop, and giving out free pencil portraits in the middle of nowhere. They are so organised and considerate."

Diehard protesters who were clocking their 14th day on the streets remained resolute.

"I won't go even if the protest leaders tell us all to go," said Mr Jim Tang, 40. The artist, who sits outside the entrance to the Chief Executive's Office every day from noon to midnight, said: "I'm not here to get answers (for Hong Kong's political problem) from anyone. I am here to make Hong Kongers aware of the problem."

Businesses in the Admiralty and Wanchai areas, meanwhile, were gloomy over another weekend of poor takings.

Famous eateries had empty tables instead of their usual long lines at lunchtime.

At Sang Kee Seafood Restaurant, waiters said only one of their two floors has been filled since the protests began.

"Our business has dropped 40 to 50 per cent as customers stay away due to the traffic problems. We are caught right between Causeway Bay and Admiralty, so they don't want to take the risk," said one waiter who did not want to give his name without his boss' permission.

HK protesters back on road, but this time it is uphill
Leaders still defiant, but may struggle to recapture previous support levels
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2014

SOME 10,000 people gathered in Hong Kong's city centre last night, as protesters were spurred back onto the streets by the government's cancellation of talks yesterday.

But while much bigger than earlier in the week, the turnout was smaller than the peak of the movement in its early days.

At press time, people were still streaming into the protest site.

Yesterday, student protest leaders remained defiant, telling reporters that they were considering escalating the campaign to block off the entrance to Government House again.

The response raised fresh questions about the level of support for the two-week movement.

Its blockade of key parts of the city has caused a traffic gridlock across the island and taken a toll on local businesses.

The government has warned that the Occupy Central movement could result in an economic loss of HK$300 million (S$49 million) per week for the city, if business in the retail, catering and tourism sectors all drop by 5 per cent.

But the principal economist of the Financial Secretary's Office, Mr Andrew Au, said the figure was only an estimate.

The movement's goal is to have an unfettered election of the chief executive, but the government says it will not talk to the protest leaders except within Hong Kong's constitutional framework, which ties the city to a Beijing decision stating that candidates are to be vetted.

The atmosphere at the Admiralty protest site last night was peaceful and festive, markedly subdued compared with a week ago.

Fresh medical graduate Lee Kit Ming, 24, said the government had made a mistake in cancelling the talks. He had attended some of the protests at the start, but did not do so in the past week due to his internship.

"They forced people to come here tonight, like me. Because I have to prove them wrong - if they think that Hong Kongers don't care about this issue any more, so they can ignore (it)," he said.

Die-hard protesters who are clocking their 13th day on the streets now said they were disappointed by the size of the crowd.

Accountant Lawrence Fung, 35, said: "Hong Kongers come and go too quickly.

"The government understands Hong Kong people too well. They heat up and cool down very fast."

He added: "But people like us who are staying are devoted and determined to fight for our rights. We won't go until they give us an answer or force us to leave through violence."

Others were incensed by the government's snub.

City University student Frankie Ip, 22, said Hong Kongers want peaceful dialogue, which the government was "stupid" to reject.

"Now, we need to escalate our actions and force the government to accede to our demands," said the public administration and politics student.

"Now, we have to be more aggressive, like maybe surround the Chief Executive office or even the Monetary Authority office in Central."

But protest leaders seem to be bowing to public pressure to ease their blockades.

Last night, the Hong Kong Federation of Students said it has agreed to allow eight empty trams to pass through the barricaded Queensway to allow normal tram services to resume in Happy Valley tomorrow.

HK calls off talks as protesters flaunt crowd muscle
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2014

IT IS back to square one. The Hong Kong government has called off talks with pro-democracy protest leaders who, in turn, want to continue paralysing the city by occupying some key thoroughfares and districts.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who would have represented the government in talks originally scheduled for this afternoon, blamed the cancellation on the demands of the protest leaders.

She told reporters: "The students' call for an expansion of an uncooperative movement has shaken the trust of the basis of our talks and it will be impossible to have a constructive dialogue."

Signs that the talks were headed for a breakdown appeared yesterday afternoon, when student leaders called for crowds to gather at the main protest site at the scheduled time of the talks to put pressure on the authorities. They indicated that the protests would end only if the government made some concessions.

Mrs Lam reacted hours later by cancelling the talks. "This is sacrificing public good for their political demands, and is against public interests and political ethics," she added, noting that average Hong Kongers are paying the price for the disruptions.

In turn, leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students hardened their stance and called on supporters last night to overwhelm the streets again to force the government back to the table.

The setback came in the wake of a brewing financial scandal involving embattled Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying. Media reports alleged that improper payments amounting to HK$50 million (S$8.2 million) were made to him by an Australian company over the last two years.

Hong Kong's Department of Justice yesterday gave the prosecution office authority to look into the allegations, which Mr Leung's office has strongly denied.

Mr Leung has not commented on the latest setback to the negotiations, which had been in peril almost from the moment they were agreed upon.

On Tuesday night, student leaders claimed that the authorities were limiting the agenda to just two topics: the constitutional basis for electoral reform, and "legal requirements" for constitutional development.

This sidestepped the protest movement's main demand of unfettered universal suffrage, they said.

Mrs Lam maintained yesterday that the government remained sincere about the talks.

But she stressed that it would neither conduct negotiations outside of Hong Kong's constitutional framework, nor engage with protesters while they used a blockade of the city centre as a bargaining chip.

HK protests draw mixed reactions from S'poreans
Youth admire movement's spirit, older folk shocked by chaos
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2014

VISITING the protest site in Admiralty where tens of thousands of Hong Kongers were gathered, Singaporean lawyer Khoo Li Lian, 40, lingered on a banner hanging from an overhead bridge.

It said "Ziji xianggang, ziji jiu", which roughly translates into "Hong Kong is ours, so we must save it ourselves".

Here was a difference between her adopted home of six years and her homeland, similar in most other aspects, she thought.

"I am not used to taking ownership of the future of my city in such an active way," she said.

The massive scale of the protests has drawn mixed reactions from Singaporeans living in Hong Kong, of whom there are an estimated 12,000 to 15,000.

Among Singaporeans The Straits Times spoke to, those in their 20s and 30s were generally admiring of the movement's spirit and verve, while those in their 50s and 60s tended to be taken aback by the chaos and disruption.

The former group says the protesters' largely peaceful and dignified manner has impressed them. Many have visited the protest sites and brought supplies for local friends in the movement.

Even former foreign minister George Yeo has taken a look-see. He posted a picture on Facebook of himself at the Admiralty site on Sunday, but declined comment for this story.

"I have always thought highly of Hong Kongers, but the protest really upped the ante," said Mr Goz Lee, a 34-year-old lawyer who has lived here for two years.

"I really didn't expect to see that level of devotion, dedication and passion in a cause. It was remarkable," he added.

He visited the Admiralty site last week in part to assure his friends and family outside of Hong Kong that it was "quite the opposite of violent riots". Comparing it with the 2011 riots in London, which he also saw, he said "the difference is stark".

Other Singaporeans, especially those whose have lived here for over a decade, disapprove of the movement's disruptive methods.

Primary and secondary schools were closed for a week, and major thoroughfares in the Central, Admiralty and Mongkok areas have been sealed off for 12 days now.

"Occupying public places, creating havoc and obstructing traffic flows is illegal and wrong," said shipping firm managing director Tony Teo, 61, who has lived here for 25 years.

Said Ms Jennifer Tan, 55, who works at a Swiss multinational: "On the third or fourth day, they should have backed down because they have made their point."

Restaurants and shops in the affected areas are facing huge losses, she added. "It is not the rich people who are affected by what the students are doing, but the poor, like the restaurant workers. Since it is democracy they want, they should ask the people being affected how they feel about this."

The protesters can be insouciant about the impact on Hong Kong's economy because of its advantage as part of China, said Ms Caroline Kwauk, 51, who runs an events management company.

"Singapore does not have the luxury of being backed up by a larger country," she said.

For Ms Khoo, who was moved by the spirit of self-determination she saw in Admiralty, that Singaporeans have not needed to take such political action is arguably "a luxury".

"But should that need ever arise, I hope to be able to stand alongside Singaporeans who feel about our home with the strength of conviction that Hong Kongers feel about theirs."

HK talks: Stalemate over agenda
Govt sidestepping issue of free elections, say activists
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2014

THEY will meet for talks tomorrow afternoon but that is the only thing the Hong Kong government and pro-democracy protesters could agree on as their stand-off entered its 12th day.

Acrimony grew between the two sides yesterday over the agenda for the talks, whether there will be a moderator present and even the choice of venue, diluting hope that the meeting will break an impasse over political reforms that has seen the city crippled by large-scale protests.

The key point of contention is the agenda, which government officials say is restricted to two areas: the constitutional basis for electoral reform and "legal requirements" for constitutional development.

Pro-democracy activists expressed fury at this yesterday, saying it sidesteps the "main political problem" that brought tens of thousands of Hong Kongers out onto the streets last week - the desire for free chief executive elections, as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates vetted by Beijing.

"I find it strange that the students are unhappy about the agenda, because they agreed to it," said Undersecretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Lau Kong Wah yesterday afternoon.

Hong Kong Federation of Students deputy secretary-general Lester Shum countered in a press briefing just 10 minutes afterwards that when he told Mr Lau, in preparatory talks on Tuesday night, that the government officials must directly address the protesters' demands, Mr Lau had replied: "Yes, yes, yes."

Mr Lau also said he would convey this to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, said Mr Shum. Mrs Lam will represent the government in tomorrow's talks.

The students have threatened to walk away from the table tomorrow if government officials avoid addressing the issue of open elections. Although the number of protesters on the streets has continued to dwindle, the student leaders said they would call for large-scale protests to resume then.

Asked by reporters why they agreed to tomorrow's talks despite the unsatisfactory agenda, Mr Shum said they saw it as an opportunity to put pressure on the government.

Analysts said the waning support for the pro-democracy movement and growing irritation among average Hong Kongers as main thoroughfares remain sealed off pushed student leaders to the table.

Chinese University of Hong Kong political analyst Ma Ngok said the students scored a win in getting the talks to be open to the media.

"Since it will be a televised discussion, it actually will be difficult for the government to limit the talks to those two topics. The students will raise the issue of democratic elections and it will be very difficult for the government to refuse to answer the question," he said.

City University political scientist James Sung defended the government's line, arguing that first- round talks should start from the "comfortable and safe" baseline of the interpretation of Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

"Any democratisation that happens has to do with that, so it's only appropriate," he said.

On the streets, weary protesters said that news of the talks' agenda had disappointed them.

"I'm not optimistic about the talks at all and that's because the government is controlled by Beijing," said security guard Douglas Wong, 32. "We hope that Hong Kongers look long term and recognise how this affects them. One day, when it is their problem, there will be no one to stand up for them."

"I have no hope for anything from the talks," said health product sales girl Wendy Fung, 21. Brandishing herbal tea and flowers given to her by supporters of the protest, she said: "We are not here to talk to the government. We are holding on because we are representing what Hong Kongers want."

Flexible truths amid Hong Kong protests
By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2014

ON THE afternoon of Sunday, Sept 28, I was right where it first started - behind the police cordon in front of which tens of thousands of protesters had massed in Hong Kong.

Minutes before, the sea of people had overwhelmed the police line at the other side of the six-lane Harcourt Road in Admiralty, before they strolled calmly onto the tarmac, forcing vehicles to turn tail. There was a bit of a festive air; some were giggling, slightly excited about the novelty of occupying the carriageway.

The atmosphere at the front line was different. Demonstrators eager to join those penned in by barricades, in front of the government office complex, were charging at the barriers. The police, meanwhile, obviously had orders to hold the line, and soon began to use pepper spray liberally; I was metres away but could already feel the effects.

It wasn't much of a deterrent though. Waves and waves of people came with umbrellas - some using it as defence, some to jab at the police, while trying to pull away the railings. I saw one police officer hit out with his baton.

Two hours later, the police unleashed tear gas. With the genie out of the bottle, they then used it multiple times - 87 rounds - throughout the night and early morning across the city centre, in a vain effort to disperse the even greater number of outraged Hong Kongers now out on the streets.

The action, almost single-handedly, triggered the so-called "umbrella movement", mobilising tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to sit in at the protest sites, far more than observers had previously predicted of the original "Occupy Central" movement.

Images of heavily armed police facing off with defenceless people with their hands in the air have since been immortalised. The dominant narrative here in Hong Kong and in some overseas media is that of a "brutal" police crackdown on peaceful protesters, most of them students.

That description is not entirely off the mark. The protesters were peaceful in that they did not set cars on fire or throw bricks. Nor did they attack officers.

But it would also not be wholly accurate to describe all the protesters as entirely peaceful, based on what I saw. When I spoke about this to friends and colleagues, one response to this was: "You must be seeing something that I can't see."

It would not be the only disagreement over what exactly has happened in the ongoing political strife in Hong Kong.

Over the past 11 days, debate has raged over different incidents, many surrounding the Hong Kong police force and its interactions with the pro-democracy protesters.

People are asking: Was that an old defenceless man trying to mediate before being pepper-sprayed - or was he himself charging at the police cordon?

Was that a hired triad thug making trouble in Mongkok - or a local resident with reason to be aggrieved with the pro-democracy protesters? Did the police deliberately dally in going to the aid of the protesters attacked - or were they truly stretched?

People looking at videos or photos of the same event - or even the same videos or photos - can come to entirely different conclusions.

Amid a movement that has deeply polarised Hong Kong, it seems, people see what they want to see.

There are two reasons for this.

One is simply that the protest movement is unfolding in a city with one of the world's highest usage of smartphones, meaning that it has become one of the most "observed" - and yet contentiously so - news developments in recent time.

Such a scenario is typical: a fracas breaks out. Immediately, all the bystanders around whip out their phones. Photos are taken, footage is filmed. On their phones, videos are niftily edited before they are disseminated on Facebook or WhatsApp.

Often, what is shared is what supports one's stance, or is simply based on the limits of where one happens to be.

Subjective or even self-interested purveying of information during conflicts or confrontations is not new of course, but there is a multiplier effect due to technology.

Another reason for the polarised interpretations is that for large swathes of Hong Kong society, the government today carries scant social, moral or political authority - which shapes societal benchmarks on what is or is not acceptable behaviour, says sociologist Lui Tai Lok of the University of Hong Kong.

"It's a situation where the authority of the government has been challenged, and the general public do think that in the face of a government they don't like, you can do something like that - at least for the moment."

What this means is that the usual definitions of "peaceful" behaviour or "proportionate" force are stretched. Actions that would have been frowned upon by most of Hong Kongers in the past as unruly, riotous and unlawful - such as charging aggressively at police cordons, pulling away barricades, blockading roads - are accepted, for the time being.

The police then are caught in a difficult position because they are still using the regular benchmarks in a normal situation, interpreting these acts as ones that call for a stern response, such as tear gas.

And with society divided between "pro-protesters" and "anti-protesters", both sides find it difficult to come to a consensus on what is permissible or not; resulting in differing interpretations of the same incident or behaviour.

It cuts both ways. Public opinion is fickle, and already, the tide is turning against the protest movement as citizens tire of the disruptions or believe that it has run its course.

If the same events of Sept 28 were to erupt today, Hong Kongers may well have a different reading of what happened and be less forgiving of protesters who charge at the police.

HK govt and student protesters to hold talks
Electoral reform, constitutional development on agenda
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

THE Hong Kong government will meet student protesters for formal talks on Friday at 4pm in the hope of breaking an impasse between both sides since the protest movement began 10 days ago.

The breakthrough in setting a date and time was announced last night by Undersecretary for Constitutional Affairs Lau Kong Wah after a third round of preparatory discussions with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS).

He said there are two topics up for discussion: the constitutional basis for electoral reform, and the "legal requirements" for constitutional development.

HKFS deputy secretary-general Lester Shum said separately that its goal for the talks is to achieve "democratic elections, to enjoy our basic right to elect our own leader".

And until the government has "made some concessions on political issues", he said, the occupation of roads will continue.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam will lead the government delegation. The venue will be confirmed today.

Mr Lau said it will be an "open meeting", meaning that it is likely to be open to the media.

Time is not on the protesters' side. The number of supporters at the sit-ins has discernibly dwindled as the city's irritation grows.

While tens of thousands were amassed on the street last week against a plan by Beijing to vet candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive election in 2017, only about a thousand remained yesterday. The main site in Harcourt Road was peaceful, but the atmosphere in Mongkok was tense, with frequent confrontations between protesters and those who are against the Occupy Central movement.

Mr Ben Wong, a helper at a traditional medicine shop, said its sales dropped 80 per cent in the last week. "We are trying to put food on the table. I don't care about politics," he said.

Yesterday, police spokesman Hui Chun Tak warned that Mongkok has become a "high-risk area" as confrontations grow.

Those urging the protesters to stay are being reckless and inconsiderate, he said, and "must be held responsible" for further confrontations and chaos.

Few options for HK protesters as support wanes
By Tan Hui Yee And Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2014

WITH their numbers dwindling and public disenchantment with their cause growing, organisers of Hong Kong's largest pro- democracy protest in years are running low on options.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying asked protesters to think of their fellow citizens while holding out assurances that the government was "sincere in having a dialogue on constitutional development".

"While fighting for a better future and democracy for Hong Kong by way of civil disobedience, should you also not consider the prolonged disruption caused to the general public by the 'Occupy Central' movement?" he said.

As classes resumed and civil servants went back to work at the blockaded government complex, preparatory talks were held for a meeting with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. Observers said that even if talks do take place, there may be little ground for either side to concede.

The street occupation began in opposition to restrictions imposed by Beijing on the format of the 2017 chief executive election. Under those rules, the central Chinese government has to vet candidates for the post.

Despite the tens of thousands that have filled Hong Kong's streets for the past week, Mr Leung has dismissed calls for him to resign. The Chinese government, which deems the protest illegal, has also indicated it will not budge on the electoral rules.

Still, protest leaders are under pressure to not walk away empty-handed. Political academic William Case from City University of Hong Kong said: "It does appear necessary now that talks of some kind be held, but what are they going to talk about?"

The more moderate factions from either side, he told The Straits Times, "are looking for a face-saving way out".

But that would be a tricky agreement to forge, he added.

Primary school pupils, whose classes were suspended, resume studies today. High school students went back to school yesterday. Meanwhile, 3,000 civil servants in the Chinese special administrative region were able to access central government offices in the Admiralty district after protesters eased their blockade.

Momentum behind the street occupation has waxed and waned since it began more than a week ago. Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd on Sept 28, enraging bystanders and drawing them out in support of the students. They then trimmed their street presence, until last Friday, when thugs began attacking protesters in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

Meanwhile, public patience is wearing thin. A four-day environment symposium bringing together 11 Nobel laureates from tomorrow was put on hold due to "sustained disruptions in the city", the organisers said.

In Mong Kok , 27-year-old art teacher Anna Ng was maintaining her vigil. She said: "We can feel the people getting more and more irritated with us."

The diehards who continued joining the occupation after work or after school remain in hope of some resolution. But they have also tempered their expectations.

Account executive Wendy Tam, 25, who joined a few hundred people in occupying Admiralty last night, said the movement was "stuck" and needed to move to a new stage. "If this goes on, it will just burn us out."

Economic anxieties lie beneath democracy demands
Bread-and-butter issues like housing prices and inflation fuel public anger
By Li Xueying and Pearl Liu, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2014

FOR marketing executive Andy Chan, 24, it began as "babysitting duty".

His younger brother, 16, had yearned to attend the ongoing student-led sit-in to agitate for greater democracy, but was allowed to do so by their parents only after Mr Chan agreed to chaperone him on National Day last Wednesday when he did not have to work.

"I did not support this movement because I thought it will just bring chaos to the city and I came only to protect my brother," said Mr Chan, looking at his sibling, still sleeping on the tarmac in Harcourt Road in Admiralty on Thursday morning.

But after spending a day and a night alongside other demonstrators - mainly students but also older working adults - he found his thinking had shifted.

"We chatted, and I found out that many share my same gloomy sentiments about the future," he said.

Mr Chan's case illustrates how beyond catchy slogans of "democracy", "freedom" and "genuine universal suffrage", Hong Kong's worst crisis since the 1997 handover is also driven by bread-and- butter issues of housing prices, inflation and stagnant social mobility.

The students first galvanised the masses by tapping the anger over Beijing's strict rules announced on Aug 31 for Hong Kong's chief executive election, as well as shock over the police's crackdown on protesters.

But what also keeps many going - as well as ensures a level of support from other segments of society - are deep-seated socio- economic worries that have manifested themselves consistently in the many protests that Hong Kong sees.

Andy graduated last year from the University of Hong Kong, the city's top college, and now works for a publishing firm, earning HK$15,000 (S$2,480) a month.

A year in the working world has exposed him to the harsh realities of trying to forge a life in one of the world's costliest and most unequal societies.

His salary, he calculates, means it will be 20 years before he has enough for the down payment on a flat. The average cost of a small unit of 40-70 sq m on Kowloon is HK$7.2 million.

He said with a sigh: "It is not like during my parents' time - so long as you studied hard and earned yourself a diploma, you could have a bright future, move upwards and change your family's life.

"I always knew there is something wrong with our society, but I did not know exactly why and how to fix it."

But words from other protesters inspired him, he said.

"Maybe democracy is the key to the question. I'm still not sure, but that is one way that we have not tried before," he mused.

Hong Kong is not called a city of protests for nothing; last year, it experienced at least 1,300 protests and public assemblies. Major protest marches include those on July 1, Oct 1 and Jan 1.

There are a myriad of causes. But a key underlying complaint is that the city no longer seems to be one of opportunity, especially for the younger generation.

Hong Kong today is one of the world's most unequal societies, with a Gini coefficient of 0.537. While the Pearl of the Orient has 44 billionaires, it also has 1.31 million people living below the poverty line in a population of 7.2 million.

And even as the cost of living steadily heads north, wages are stagnating. Various studies found that more young Hong Kongers feel keenly that they are no longer able to move up the ladder.

Couple this with the fact that the city has a dire housing problem - it boasts the world's most expensive flat at the Twelve Peaks at HK$175,000 per sq ft, as well as coffin homes and subdivided flats across the island - and it is little wonder people are angry.

Many at the protests are not so naive as to believe that unfettered democracy will be the panacea for all ills, especially when they are so embedded and a diverse society has different ideas on how they can be solved.

But there is a sense that a leader nominated and popularly elected by the people - and not one among a few candidates pre-selected by Beijing - will have the moral mandate and authority to push through tough policies.

"At least, it will be someone who will really work for us and not for Beijing, because he will have to face us," said sales manager Tsang Siu Yim, 54. "And even if he can't perform, it's my problem - I voted for him and I will vote him out again."

Such a leader will also be less beholden to the tycoons, developers and other vested-interest representatives who dominate the 1,200-strong election committee that now selects the chief executive, they believe.

The powerful magnates used to be revered but have since been vilified by many for their oligarchic conglomerates with power over items from property and grocery prices to rentals and wages. A strike by dock workers over wages last year became a symbol of what some called a "class war".

To his credit, current Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had sought to solve some of these grassroots problems, but to no avail. Home prices surged 22 per cent in the two years since he took office on July 1, 2012.

There is also no appetite for other issues such as a controversial universal pension.

For the past 24 years since the Basic Law was promulgated, Article 45 - which states that "the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures" - had led people to hope for free and fair elections, and perhaps a more effective check on concentrated economic power.

But the Aug 31 rules dictate that the new nominating committee will be formed based on the existing one. It did not help when Tsinghua University law dean Wang Zhenmin said recently that China needed to protect the interests of the tycoons. "Universal suffrage means the redistribution of economic interests in society," he said.

A crowded protest is not where one usually brings a two-month- old infant. But that was where administrative assistant Jojo Cheung, 33, and her husband Gary Cheung, 34, a freelance Web salesman, toted their newborn to last Wednesday, along with their four-year-old daughter. "This is about Hong Kong's future," said Ms Cheung.

Mainland students in HK indifferent or wary
By Li Xueying and Pearl Liu, The Straits Times, 7 Oct 2014

FOR the past nine days while Hong Kong students immobilised swathes of the city under the spotlight of the global media, Tianjin master's student W.J. Chu was buried in books at his university library in Kowloon.

Asked if he knows what is going on, the 24-year-old ventures hesitantly: "Er, something about fighting for universal suffrage?"

A mix of indifference, ambivalence and even fear mark the reactions of the city's mainland Chinese students to the city's largest protest movement, with most staying away from the sites where their Hong Kong counterparts have been staging sit-ins to lobby for unfettered democracy.

Mainlanders make up the vast majority of overseas students in Hong Kong, numbering 11,400 - or 78 per cent of all non-local students at the eight public universities here. But they are rarely glimpsed or heard at the protest sites, where other non-local students, tourists and even domestic helpers have at times joined in.

Meanwhile, a short-lived campaign on social media WeChat by an online community of mainland students here - the "Hong Kong Drifters Circle" - inviting views on the movement last Monday found that over half of the dozens who responded were liable to complain about the inconveniences it has caused them instead. It was deleted a day later by censors.

Interviews with mainland students found that some believe that the Hong Kong students, while passionate, are politically naive about what they can wrangle from Beijing through such means. Others say that they are simply afraid of "trouble".

It is a useless mission, argued student Sarah Zhang, 21.

"How can they expect Beijing to change their decision?" she said.

"The government - even local governments - never change their policies from what I learnt in my 18-year experience on the mainland. They are just too naive."

Another student, who wanted to be known only as Ms Sun, from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, also steered clear of the protests, though she "personally supports democracy and admires the students".

She cited fears that what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 will be replayed in Hong Kong.

"The police fired tear gas and some said they prepared rubber bullets. Who knows if they will fire real bullets later? No one expected in 1989 that unarmed students would be killed."

Her parents have also warned her repeatedly not to go to the protest sites and to be cautious with what she says. "They always drilled in me that careless talk will lead to trouble," she said.

The lukewarm reaction by mainland students here raises questions about Beijing's fears that giving in to Hong Kong's demands could lead to similar uprisings in other parts of the country.

Chinese University of Hong Kong sociologist Sara Zhong, who hails from the mainland herself, said that research has found that mainland Chinese today are unlikely to rise and demand "Western-standard democracy".

"They (the central government) don't need to worry so much but they still worry."

But there are a few caveats in making this extrapolation.

For one thing, this is not a battle that the mainland students here feel enjoined in.

There is a persistent sense of isolation for even long-stayers here, who still mainly keep to themselves. Ties today between locals and mainlanders are at a low, following increasing - and ugly - conflicts over issues such as competition for jobs or school spots. Prejudice towards mainlanders is commonplace.

Another factor, said sociologist Chung Kim Wah of Polytechnic University, is that mainland students here are often members of student organisations backed by the Liaison Office, the central government's representative office here.

Citing his personal experience as director for the university's Centre for Social Policy Studies, he said it has been difficult getting the students to participate in student union events or forum discussions such as when emotions were running high between Hong Kong and mainland students and the centre wanted to mediate.

"What I understand is that to some extent, they are under the supervision of mainland officials, and so they may not be so comfortable taking part in such activities," he said.

Another reason is simply more straightforward: "Some university students grew up in good times back home, and think the China system is quite good.

"So they wonder why the Hong Kong students need to make a mess of it."

For one mainland student who did take part in the protest at Admiralty, University of Hong Kong student Anne Liu, 20, the experience was "heart-rending".

She cried, she said, as the demonstrators sang and cheered together in the rain.

"I felt their sincerity, to want to change the city for a brighter future. To me, Hong Kong has been always a pioneer for China, in terms of the economy and democracy.

"It is not like other places on the mainland where people have to numbly obey orders and policies even if they are not happy.

"If Hong Kong one day is entirely under Beijing's thumb, I will be very disappointed because the hope of democracy for the country is gone," she said.

Cracks grow in protest movement
Discord could give govt chance to 'stage comeback'
By Li Xueying & Tan Hui Yee In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2014

HONG KONG'S eight- day-old pro-democracy protest movement is increasingly fractured, facing dissent both within and outside - which analysts say could offer an opportunity for the government to "stage a comeback".

In an initial move hailed as a breakthrough in the crisis, protesters last night declared they were withdrawing from the area outside the Chief Executive's Office in Admiralty and reopening the nearby Lung Wo Road to allow traffic to flow from the eastern to the western part of the island.

A protester shook hands with a police officer, in a "handover" photographed by the media.

Another faction at Mong Kok also said it was retreating and would be regrouping at the main protest site at Harcourt Road in Admiralty.

The developments were announced by Occupy Central, one of the movement's organisers, over Twitter at 6pm.

But less than two hours later, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), another organiser, issued a statement on Facebook clarifying that it had not called for a retreat.

"Every occupying site is important and represents Hong Kongers' bargaining chip in negotiating with the government.

"Until we have concrete results, we should stay put."

Later in the night, other protesters re-occupied Lung Wo Road. Over at Mong Kok, the crowd numbers swelled, as more arrived to bolster the ranks and thumb their noses at a deadline set by Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

Mr Leung had called for the roads to be cleared by today so that government employees can go to work and students can return to school.

Said 19-year-old Venus Liu, a defiant Baptist University student: "The only way he can clear the roads is to respond to our requests."

The student protesters had asked for Mr Leung's resignation and for the right of the public to nominate candidates for the 2017 chief executive election.

Last night's developments highlighted cracks in a movement that had melded awkwardly together. The students led by HKFS and Scholarism had kick-started the movement on Sept 26, which Occupy Central - led by academic Benny Tai - latched on to on Sept 28. Political scientist Peter Cheung of the University of Hong Kong said it appeared the organisers are in disagreement while losing control over developments on the ground.

He noted that protesters of "unknown backgrounds - some who are obviously not students" have joined the movement. Early yesterday morning, for instance, people purportedly supporting the pro-democracy protest in Mong Kok surrounded and heckled police officers, resulting in the use of pepper spray and some injuries. There has also been a constant stream of altercations with anti-Occupy protesters.

Warned Prof Cheung: "By not retreating now, the organisers fall into the dangerous scenario of allowing the authorities - whether the Hong Kong government or Beijing - to drum up popular support to justify future measures including Article 23."

This refers to a controversial national security law that the central government has long wanted to pass but which was shelved in 2003 after a public outcry here.

But protest organisers yesterday said they have no intention of leaving, with some students bracing themselves for possible police action.

Meanwhile, the government announced that secondary schools in affected areas will reopen today after a week of closure. Alternative bus routes have been arranged.

HK chief 'will do all it takes' to restore order
Leung's vow comes as officials deny working with triads to clear occupied streets
By Tan Hui Yee In Hong Kong, The Sunday Times, 5 Oct 2014

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, facing pro-democracy protests entering their second week, has vowed to do whatever it takes to restore order and sought to reopen government offices by tomorrow.

"The government and the police have the duty and determination to take all necessary actions to restore social order," he said in a televised address last evening.

"The most urgent thing is that all entrances and exits of the SAR government's headquarters must be kept clear on Monday, so all 3,000 government staff can work normally," he said, referring to the Special Administrative Region.

"And roads in Central and Western and Wan Chai districts will no longer be blocked, so all schools can resume classes on Monday," he added.

He also said: "There are many social issues to resolve in the community… We need to work out a consensus while accommodating differences, and should not aggravate the problem with street protests."

His call came as officials fended off allegations that they worked with triads to clear occupied streets.

Occupy Central protest leaders suspended talks with the government on Friday after what they called "organised attacks" against their supporters. Groups of people, who were mostly men, punched, shoved and kicked protesters on the triad-infested streets of Mongkok district as well as Causeway Bay. According to eyewitnesses, the police were slow to act.

Members of the opposition pan-democratic camp of lawmakers yesterday also alleged official complicity.

"I cannot believe that the experienced Mongkok police could not identify triad gangsters," Democrat legislator James To was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying. "The government has used organised, orchestrated and even triad gangs in an attempt to disperse citizens."

Hong Kong's Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok called these allegations "untrue, unfounded and beyond belief".

"The police officers at the scene tried their best to handle the situation under chaotic conditions and to maintain order in an impartial way," he said during a press conference, adding that their response time was hindered by the protesters' roadblocks.

The protests were triggered by rules imposed by Beijing on the election of Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2017. China's legislature decided in August that candidates for the post needed to be vetted by Beijing.

In a front-page editorial yesterday, the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said the protests would not spread to the rest of China.

"For the minority of people who want to foment a 'colour revolution' on the mainland by way of Hong Kong, this is but a daydream," it said.

Friday's violence drew more people into Mongkok to defend protest encampments from being dismantled. According to human rights group Amnesty International, women were also sexually harassed and assaulted during the melee.

Police said they arrested 19 men, eight of whom have triad links. More than 50 people were injured.

The mood in Mongkok yesterday afternoon was calmer, with sporadic confrontations sparked by individuals opposed to the occupation. "Go home to study!" an elderly man shouted at youth.

Police hovering nearby were quick to separate opposing sides whenever the exchanges threatened to spiral into a brawl.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of supporters gathered at the Admiralty protest site next to the government offices in a rally to condemn the violence.

Shadow of Tiananmen 'looms large'
By Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 5 Oct 2014

As Mr Tommy Cheung, 20, president of Chinese University of Hong Kong's students union, traverses the city directing the massive pro-democracy protests, a nagging thought lies at the back of his mind.

What will he do if there is an armed crackdown on the protesters like what happened at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989?

"I believe a sizeable number of people harbour the same thought, which reflects our determination to fight for democracy," the third-year political science student said over the phone.

"I try not to think about it because the likelihood is low as we're sticking to peaceful means. But if the scenario comes to pass, I am prepared to sacrifice myself to advance democracy in Hong Kong."

The shadow of the Tiananmen incident looms large over both the protesters and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), say observers, adding that it could be a significant factor determining how the two sides handle and respond to each other.

The incident referred to is a bloody crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989, that stretched into the morning of June 4, by People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops. Their orders - which came from paramount leader Deng Xiaoping - were to end the pro-democracy protests launched in April that year by students who were joined later by up to 100,000 other Chinese.

Estimates of the death toll range from several hundreds to thousands. The incident, also known as June 4th or liu si, remains the most politically sensitive event for the CCP, marking the first time it used weapons on the people since taking power in 1949.

With that precedent in mind, Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters are talking about what they would do in such a scenario. Politicians are also warning openly about potential actions by some to "provoke a Tiananmen in Hong Kong and forcing the PLA to come out".

Observers say awareness of the Tiananmen incident is high among the protesters due to annual commemorations of the event in Hong Kong, the only Chinese city that can do so because of the "one country, two systems" formula under which it is ruled that gives it autonomy.

Fears of an armed crackdown were fuelled by the use of tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds and the sight of police armed with shotguns last Sunday.

"The Hong Kong people know clearly that the CCP would do anything to maintain its grip on power," said law scholar Teng Biao of the China University of Political Science. No rubber bullet has been used so far.

Nottingham University analyst Steve Tsang believes it is good that protesters are thinking about a possible crackdown as they "may avoid taking actions that will result in the use of lethal force".

As for Beijing, observers say the Tiananmen incident makes top leaders cautious in resorting to the use of force, although none in the CCP's apex Politburo Standing Committee had any direct involvement in the 1989 event. However, President Xi Jinping's father, Mr Xi Zhongxun, was said to have opposed the use of force in 1989, although analysts do not think this would be a factor in how Mr Xi Jr deals with the Hong Kong crisis.

"It may be more useful to judge Xi on his own track record, which shows he has not hesitated to use the security apparatus to maintain stability, in particular in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang," said Ms Louisa Lim, author of The People's Republic Of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited.

Professor Tsang said Beijing is well aware of the damage Tiananmen did to its standing and interests and will not want to pay that price again.

"The CCP has a policy, post-1989, to do what it takes to pre-empt the need for a Tiananmen-style repression," said Prof Tsang, adding, however, that if the party had to send in the troops, it would.

Another factor against the crackdown, said Prof Teng, currently a visiting fellow at Harvard University, is the possible unrest it may trigger in other Chinese cities.

"Xi faces a difficult choice: If he doesn't crack down, the Hong Kong protests could spark pro-democracy sentiments in other Chinese cities, but a crackdown may cause negative impact too."

Prof Hung Ho Fung of the Johns Hopkins University said Mr Xi also has to consider the potential divisions that a crackdown might cause, citing how Deng's actions in 1989 met with resistance within the CCP and the military. "Therefore, he (Xi) will move very cautiously."

However, the possibility of another Tiananmen is there and it depends on how the protest movement evolves and how the CCP views the threat to its rule, say experts.

"The red line is clear, but how it will be interpreted as being crossed is a dynamic one. A challenge against the CCP will not be tolerated by Beijing," said Prof Tsang.

Western media coverage biased against China: Shanmugam
By Rachel Chang In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 5 Oct 2014

There has been much anti-China bias in the Western media's reporting on Hong Kong's situation, said Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, as he sought to offer another perspective on the current stand-off between Occupy Central protesters and the authorities that is now entering its eighth day.

Speaking to Lianhe Zaobao in an interview published yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said that Western media reports have made Beijing out to be "denying democracy" and acting to infringe on freedoms that have made Hong Kong so successful.

The truth, he said, is that Hong Kong did not have democracy during 150 years of British rule.

Beijing's proposal for Hong Kongers to elect their leader from a vetted list - what the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are currently amassed against - is actually much more than what the British had ever offered.

Before the handover to China in 1997, neither the British rulers nor the Hong Kong media thought Hong Kong needed democracy, he pointed out. Universal suffrage was also not included in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, the agreement that cemented the terms of the handover.

"The Western media does not report these facts," he said.

Mr Shanmugam put the Chinese government's hard line towards the Occupy Central protesters in the context of its overarching governance priorities.

At this stage in its development, China's primary goal is unity, progress and a better life for 1.3 billion people, he said, and its leadership believes that it can achieve this only by good governance and avoiding the ills of multi-party democracy.

China's GDP per capita today is US$6,800 (S$8,700), and the Chinese leaders will want to achieve the goal of becoming a moderately prosperous country before they will contemplate any move to democratise.

Two examples confirm Beijing's belief, he noted.

First is the dysfunction and partisan gridlock of the political system in the United States, which has deteriorated to the point of being unable to pass a Budget for years or address any pressing governance issues like immigration reform, improving public education or handling crime and violence.

Because of short electoral cycles, the US government is also unable to plan for the long term, he said.

China, as a poorer, less developed country, believes that it "cannot afford the luxury of such dysfunctionality", he said.

The second reaffirming example Beijing looks to is the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, which Chinese leaders see as a cautionary tale of what happens when political restructuring precedes economic reform.

In the 1980s, Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev implemented a policy of glasnost - openness - as the Soviet Union tried to reform, unleashing democratising forces that ultimately unseated his own government.

"So China will be firm: It is not going to institute any major political change to copy the Western models - in the short term," he said.

"The leadership will believe that any such move will be disastrous for China and will hurt the people of China," he added.

And since whatever happens in Hong Kong can have an impact on the rest of China, giving in to the protesters' demands, from Beijing's point of view, may affect the stability of China as a whole, he noted.

This perspective, said Mr Shanmugam, "is entirely understandable".

China is also suspicious of the protests and wonders if Western countries have a hand in stoking sentiment, he noted.

Mr Shanmugam said that it must be asked if the average Hong Konger is prepared for the trade-offs of a protracted stand-off with Beijing.

"There needs to be clear understanding that China has acted in accordance with the Basic Law," he said, referring to Hong Kong's mini-Constitution that enshrines the "one country, two systems" principle.

"If Hong Kongers want a change from the Basic Law - they have to recognise that Hong Kong is part of China, and there are some things China will accept and some things which are red lines for China.

"And there needs to be a clear understanding of Hong Kong's extreme reliance on China for jobs and (its) livelihood," he said.

"There needs to be a clear understanding of China's largesse towards Hong Kong even as an anti-China mood is stoked up."

Mr Shanmugam believed that the Occupy Central protests will not affect Singapore.

Outside interference not helpful: PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2014

THE responsibility falls on Hong Kong and Beijing to make "one country, two systems" work, and the involvement of other parties would complicate matters, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

Replying to a question at a dialogue after his National University of Singapore Society lecture, Mr Lee said Hong Kong is in a very unique and delicate position.

"It's not a sovereign country, it's one country, two systems. It's never had elections all the years when the British had it as a colony," he said, responding to a member of the audience, who had asked about the stand-off between pro-democracy demonstrators and the Hong Kong government.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets to push for universal suffrage in demonstrations that started on Sunday night. They are against election rules that will see Beijing vet candidates for Hong Kong's elections.

Mr Lee said that when the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, an agreement was made that Hong Kong would be governed under one country, two systems, with some limited form of democracy that would be gradually extended to universal suffrage.

However, with this principle of one country, two systems, there would always be grey areas for interpretation, he said. "It's a delicate business because where exactly does one country end and two systems begin?" he said.

But he added that on these matters, the people of Hong Kong, as well as the central government in Beijing, would have to work jointly to make things work.

He warned that if other groups got involved, and used the occasion to "pressure or change" China, the situation could get complicated. Citing an example, Mr Lee said he had read in the news that former activists who were part of the Tiananmen protests in Beijing in 1989 had gone to Hong Kong to give advice to student protesters there.

Those involved in Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, a protest movement led by students to oppose trade deals between Taiwan and Beijing, had also gone to Hong Kong to "compare notes" with student protesters there, he noted.

"I don't think such help is helpful in any way," said Mr Lee.

He said the "geopolitical reality is that Hong Kong is now part of China", and that China is prepared to go very far to help Hong Kong succeed.

But it would not want Hong Kong to "become a problem on the other side of the Shenzhen River", referring to the natural border between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Mr Lee added that if the election rules for the Special Administrative Region were not "moved forward", then the status quo would remain.

"It's workable, but you have to ask yourself whether that's the best outcome for Hong Kong," he said, adding that he wished the city well.

Clash of rival camps threatens HK reform talks
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2014

THE fragile peace between the Hong Kong government and protest organisers is in danger of falling apart. The pro-democracy activists are suspending proposed talks with the authorities, claiming that their supporters were at the receiving end of "organised attacks" in Mongkok.

Tempers flared just a day after the two sides agreed to talk about possible reforms. Hundreds of people, mainly men, started scuffling with the protesters, who have been staging a sit-in at the busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Road since Monday.

Some tore up the protesters' canopies and smashed their supplies, including cartons of masks, water and food. A few were bloodied with injuries.

One man wielding a megaphone shouted at the activists: "You don't live here. Give Mongkok back to us. If you want to occupy, occupy your own home!"

Police stepped in and formed a cordon between the two camps, while escorting protesters out.

Later, thousands of activists massed in the area and some of them started to shout, "Go back to Beijing", at their opponents.

In a statement last night, the Federation of Students accused the government and police of "allowing triads and 'patriotic' organisations to violently attack" Occupy Central supporters. The talks, it announced, will be put on ice.

The two sides are supposed to meet for dialogue "as soon as possible" to discuss constitutional reform, with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam representing the government. The talks would be key to defusing tensions, almost one week into Occupy Central's paralysing of swathes of Hong Kong.

But the scuffles could prove to be a hurdle. It is not clear if those who attacked the protesters were local residents and shopkeepers upset with the disruption to their routines, or whether their actions were inspired by external parties.

HK chief won't step down, offers talks with protesters
He promises to push for political reform; demonstrators disappointed
By Tan Hui Yee And Li Xueying In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2014

MIDNIGHT came and went but Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying sidestepped an ultimatum by protesters asking him to resign from his post.

At a press conference ahead of the deadline for him to step down, Mr Leung announced, however, that the government was willing to hold talks with the protesters.

Making the announcement 15 minutes before midnight, he struck a conciliatory note, saying: "I will continue to do a good job at pushing for political reform." He did not specify what this meant.

Mr Leung also said that the police will exercise "maximum restraint" in dealing with the protesters.

Hong Kong chief secretary Carrie Lam, the city's No. 2, has been picked to engage the Federation of Students as soon as possible in a dialogue on constitutional reform. This was in response to one of their demands made in an open letter earlier in the night.

The announcement left protesters angry and disappointed.

Copywriter Yan Woo, 20, said: "Nothing will change."

Earlier, tensions had escalated as the clock ticked down to the deadline. Protesters had threatened to occupy or surround government buildings if Mr Leung did not resign. Thousands massed outside the Chief Executive's Office, facing off with ranks of police.

Police officers had moved what appeared to be riot gear - including tear gas and rubber bullets - into the compound.

In a statement, the police said they would take "resolute enforcement actions" if protesters charged police cordon lines.

Beijing, meanwhile, threw its weight behind Mr Leung.

Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily said in a front page commentary yesterday that the central Chinese government had "full confidence" in him and "will resolutely support his leadership".

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, told foreigners to stay out of China's internal affairs. He made this plain to his US counterpart John Kerry, who had said he hoped the Hong Kong authorities would respect the rights of protesters.

Protesters are demanding that Beijing restart the constitutional reform process after Beijing proposed rules that meant the central government would vet candidates for the first direct election of the city's chief executive in 2017.

Mr Lam Woon Kwong, convenor of the executive council, the city's policymaking organ, yesterday appealed to Hong Kongers to ask the protesters to retreat.

"I can only appeal to the good sense of the ordinary people to convince the protesters that their sympathy, tolerance and patience will run out pretty soon," he told The Straits Times.

China rebuffs US call to pay heed to protesters
Respect Beijing's sovereignty and stay out of HK affairs, says minister
By Jeremy Au Yong,  US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2014

CHINA has rebuffed calls from the United States to pay heed to protesters in Hong Kong, telling it and other states to stay out of its affairs.

US President Barack Obama, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry all raised concerns over Hong Kong during meetings with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday.

But speaking to reporters alongside Mr Kerry before the start of their bilateral meeting, Mr Wang made it clear that Beijing was in no mood to discuss the issue.

"The Chinese government has very firmly and clearly stated its position. Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. All countries should respect China's sovereignty," he said in Mandarin, shortly after Mr Kerry voiced concern about developments in the southern Chinese city.

Mr Wang added: "We believe for any country, for any society, no one will allow those illegal acts that violate public order. That's the situation in the United States, and that's the same situation in Hong Kong."

Mr Kerry earlier reiterated US concern over the mass protests that have brought Hong Kong to a standstill. "As China knows, we support universal suffrage in Hong Kong accordant with the Basic Law, and we believe in open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law, (which) is essential for Hong Kong's stability and prosperity," he said.

"And we have high hopes that the Hong Kong authorities will exercise restraint and respect for the protesters' right to express their views peacefully."

Mr Wang's meetings with top US leaders were aimed at preparing for Mr Obama's visit to China next month.But the topic of Hong Kong emerged at every meeting.

A statement from the White House said Mr Obama and Dr Rice told Mr Wang that the US was following developments closely.

"The United States has consistently supported the open system that is essential to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, universal suffrage and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people," it said.

Protesters have thronged the streets of Hong Kong since the weekend, demanding greater freedom for the election of the city's chief executive. In preparation for Hong Kong's first direct election in 2017, Beijing proposed rules that would mean it would vet all candidates for the post.

While the US has expressed support for autonomy in Hong Kong, it has been vague on whether it objects to China vetting candidates for the city's leader.

Experts in China say the Hong Kong crisis has had no substantial impact on Sino-US ties just yet, but that it could become a point of contention between the two sides if the situation deteriorates.

"It does give some cause for concern," said Professor Niu Jun of Peking University.

Mr Obama is due to be in China next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. Leaders of both sides said on Wednesday they hoped to move US-China relations beyond issues that have plagued ties this year.

Mr Wang described the relationship as "a giant ship sailing on the sea". "It requires that both sides work jointly to keep the ship on the right course, keep injecting the impetus for it to forge ahead... I believe we need to enhance mutual trust, strategic trust; reduce mutual strategic misgivings; and reduce our misjudgment."

HK protesters up the ante as street rallies spread
N-Day bash muted; Chinese media warns activists of consequences
By Tan Hui Yee In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 2 Oct 2014

PROTESTERS occupying the streets of Hong Kong are threatening to escalate their actions as Beijing sounded a harder line against the pro-democracy activists.

A student group powering the movement has given Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying until the end of today to step down, failing which it may occupy government offices, it said.

Meanwhile, the protests spread to the tourist area of Tsim Sha Tsui, bringing the protest sites to four. The others are Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok.

Chinese state media, which has called the protesters' actions illegal, issued sharper warnings.

"Occupy Central is not communication," said an editorial of the Chinese Communist Party paper People's Daily yesterday, referring to the movement.

"Occupy Central is confrontation. A minority insists on opposing the rule of law and provoking incidents. They will have to face the consequences."

Beijing's top representative in Hong Kong, Mr Zhang Xiaoming, dismissed the protests yesterday as he celebrated China's national day with top Hong Kong officials.

"The sun still rises," he said.

The Hong Kong government, with support from Beijing, has decided to wait out the protests. It hopes disruption to everyday life would turn public opinion against protesters, said The New York Times. Demonstrators have blocked major roads over most of the past week to demand changes to strict rules for direct election of the city's chief executive in 2017.

China's legislature determined in August that candidates would need to be vetted by a nominating panel, which the pro-democracy camps say would ensure the installation of pro-Beijing individuals.

Police have largely kept their street presence minimal since firing tear gas on Sunday to disperse the protesters, which drew even more people onto the streets.

Fears of a crackdown have faded away for now, as blockades have shuttered banks and shops during what is one of Hong Kong retailers' busiest periods. Chinese tourists usually flock to the city during the week-long national day holiday.

In the shopping belt of Causeway Bay, salesmen in sharp suits stood glumly behind glass doors of high-end watch boutiques as youthful activists dressed in black took over the streets, keeping away the tourists.

Over in Mongkok, swarms of locals clustered around impromptu speakers who used loudhailers to express their political aspirations.

While the bourses of Hong Kong and China were closed, several Asian markets did not fare well. Japan's Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.56 per cent and Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 0.39 per cent.

Official national day celebrations in Hong Kong were muted, with protesters crossing their arms in opposition as the national anthem was played in the annual flag-raising ceremony on the Victoria Harbour waterfront.

The vice-secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, Mr Lester Shum, told media that student leaders were still open to talks with central government officials. But analysts warned that any escalation on their part would put a compromise out of reach.

3 Options for Beijing
It will most likely ignore protests, let them run out of steam, say analysts
By Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 2 Oct 2014

AS THE pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong enter another day, the question on many minds is: What will Beijing do?

In dealing with what is arguably the biggest open challenge to his rule, President Xi Jinping will seek to prevent the pro-democracy sentiments from spilling over into the mainland and to end the international embarrassment caused by the protests.

But growing concerns over Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" model that Beijing hopes to use in Taiwan will limit Mr Xi's options, such as using force to break up the protests aimed at overturning strict rules set for the 2017 direct election of Hong Kong's Chief Executive.

Here's a look at how Beijing might respond if the protests continue at current levels:

Wearing down the protesters

ANALYSTS mostly believe that Beijing's likeliest response is to let the protests be and hope they will die a natural death.

Nottingham University analyst Steve Tsang said Beijing's best option is to ignore the protests and not make an issue out of it.

"They will eventually lose steam and end, as all demonstrations do if they cannot achieve their objective," Prof Tsang said.

Another analyst said it is possible that Beijing would try to sway public opinion against the protesters, and referred to reports in pro-Beijing newspapers in recent days that thanked the police for doing a difficult job in maintaining law and order.

"Hong Kong people are very pragmatic and know that the Occupy Central movement has disrupted their lives," said the analyst, who declined to be named. "Beijing's hope is that the silent majority will speak up more."

Making compromises like removing key officials

TALK has risen that Beijing is prepared to remove key officials including Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying as a compromise to appease the protesters and also as punishment for mishandling the situation.

Prof Tsang believes it is a likely prospect, as Beijing would have been surprised and angered at the turn of events and concluded that "the Chief Executive was the cause of this embarrassing failure".

He added that Mr Leung's sacking could take place "in due course" after the Hong Kong government puts an end to the demonstrations.

Other analysts, however, believe talk of Mr Leung's stepping down is nothing more than a rumour. "If the central government is serious about doing this, do you think it will let this news leak out so easily?" said Beijing-based political analyst Li Fan.

But mainland law expert Teng Biao told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post in an interview published yesterday that he believes Mr Leung's resignation "is something Beijing could accept, even though it won't be easy to accept".

"But his resignation would not in any way affect Hong Kong's democratisation process. They swop the man, but don't swop the system," said Prof Teng, who is now a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

Initiating a dialogue with protest leaders

POLITICAL analyst Mr Li believes negotiations between Beijing and protest leaders could be a possible scenario.

"There is enough li xing on the part of both Beijing and the protesters," said Mr Li, using the Chinese term for rationality.

"The Hong Kong society is largely rational. They will know when to stop and not go to extremes after having expressed their views. Ultimately, both sides will talk through the issues and reach a peaceful resolution," said Mr Li, who runs private think-tank World and China Institute.

An analyst who declined to be named said a peaceful resolution is based on the premise that the protests do not escalate beyond current levels.

"There is nothing wrong with Beijing's policy nor is there a need to change it because of problems in the short term. It is the Hong Kong people who need to understand that the central government cares for their interests."

Warnings and ultimatums put HK on the edge
HK leader says he will not resign, points out social costs of protests
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2014

AHEAD of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China today, protest organisers in control of major roads in the city were demanding that Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying resign, or face the prospect of an escalation of protests.

They also want "public nomination", that is, the right for the people to nominate the chief executive candidates in the 2017 election instead of having them being vetted by a nominating committee, as is stipulated under the Basic Law.

An ultimatum for Mr Leung to show up last night to meet the protesters came and went.

A rumoured police crackdown to clear protest sites ahead of today's public holiday had also not materialised by press time.

What did arrive last night instead were yet more people, their enthusiasm not doused by a thundery storm at night. They popped open the colourful brollies they had at hand to guard against tear gas and pepper spray, earning the movement the moniker of "Umbrella Revolution".

Meanwhile, a sober-faced Mr Leung made his first public remarks since the crisis - the worst civil unrest Hong Kong has experienced since its 1997 handover from British rule - erupted over the weekend.

He would not be resigning, he indicated yesterday, saying that "any personnel change before universal suffrage is achieved can be done only via choosing a leader under the existing Election Committee model".

Beijing will also not change its mind on political reform in Hong Kong as a result of such street tactics, he added.

Upping the ante for the civil disobedience movement, Mr Leung made clear its social costs, saying the road blockades are affecting the city's emergency services and that there are delays in getting medical help to patients.

In a separate press briefing, the police said paramedics had to take the subway at one point. "The longest we've been delayed was 43.5 minutes," said Deputy Chief Fire Officer Leung Wai Hung.

As street protests entered the third day, the Chief Executive said Hong Kong's economy and international reputation were being affected. The protests could "last for quite a long period of time", he warned, and the price on Hong Kong will be "higher and higher".

Meanwhile, Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou added his own words of caution by saying that China risked alienating the island's people and damaging relations if it failed to respond with a "delicate hand" to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

"If the mainland authority can handle this appeal with a delicate hand, it can help to shorten the mental gaps between people across the Taiwan Strait and benefit cross-strait relations," he said. "Otherwise, it could serve to alienate Taiwanese people and cause damage to cross-strait relations."

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he will summon China's ambassador to London over the protests in Hong Kong to express "dismay and alarm" about the refusal to grant free elections.

While most shops that had closed on Monday reopened for business yesterday, bus and tram routes through the affected roads remain diverted. Access points through buildings were also shut.

Chief Executive Leung called on the Occupy Central organisers to halt the sit-in, saying that it is now out of control.

But Occupy Central co-organiser Chan Kin Man claimed it was the government that had aggravated the situation, with the police's "heavy-handed tactics".

Earlier in the day, rumours swirled that the police could be preparing to move in again, prompting the protesters to prepare makeshift barricades by stacking filled garbage bags.

Singapore, the United States and Australia have issued travel notices.

A 'symbolic' statement on eve of China's national day
Protesters hang tight to make their demand for universal suffrage
By Tan Hui Yee In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2014

WITH bus services suspended, the young people of Hong Kong packed its subway before spilling out into its central business district.

They were dressed in black, armed with bottled water and brimming with hope - joining the Occupy Central protests to try to force Beijing to allow their city universal suffrage. They did not know how long they were going to stay on the streets. But they were not budging last night.

"Tomorrow is China's national day," said film studies graduate Chow Hiu Tung, 22, as she held out yellow ribbons to the streams of protesters walking past yesterday. It was symbolic that they were occupying the streets and making aloud their demand to elect a leader of their choice, she said, as China began its week- long holiday to celebrate the founding of the People's Republic of China.

In the financial district of Admiralty, where police fired tear gas at protesters on Sunday, volunteers sat on the tarmac amid piles of surgical masks and bottled water, some drenching towels in buckets of water to ward off the sting in case of another such attack.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, in his first remarks since the police's use of tear gas on Sunday, yesterday dismissed talk that the People's Liberation Army or mainland police would be called in to control the swelling crowds.

But he accused the protesters of blocking emergency services, damaging the economy and tarnishing the financial hub's global image. "Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop," he said. "I'm now asking them to fulfil the promise they made to society and stop this campaign immediately."

His call rang empty on the streets of Admiralty.

Banners and makeshift signs were hung from overhead bridges and taped onto barricades, showing defiant messages.

"Stop suppressing us, we will never compromise!"

"The government has died, but our spirit has not died."

Many who had turned up pitched in to make the street occupation more comfortable. Volunteers sprayed mist into the crowd from small plastic bottles. Others walked down the streets, offering slices of bread and biscuits. Several traders from New York-based brokerage BGC Partners grilled sausages for the hungry demonstrators. A man sat patiently on the road divider, clutching a backpack and holding a handwritten sign that read - "(Mobile phone) charging: Three ports."

Despite the efforts, the conditions remained difficult, with some complaining that they had to cut down their water intake because toilets were far away.

Some older protesters seemed more fervent. Mr Lam Wan Yui, 71, who turned up with his wife to support his children and grandson who had been taking part in the protests, said he would show up every day until Mr Leung steps down. The couple, who moved here from the mainland in 1968, were undaunted by the chance that a prolonged occupation could provoke a violent crackdown by the authorities. "Even if I die, I will not let the Communist Party completely rule this place," said Mr Lam's wife Hui Sik, 65.

A clap of thunder was followed by a sudden downpour after dark, causing some among the crowd to flee for shelter.

But most refused to budge, shouting "Hong Kong, fight on!" under a sea of umbrellas.

Beijing unlikely to compromise even on lesser demands
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2014

"AS THE storm swirls around us, hold on tight to our freedom."

Scrawled on a banner, the emotive lyrics by popular Hong Kong rock band Beyond form an encouragement to student protesters to dig in their heels, never mind the heat, fatigue and parents.

For many of them, the word "freedom" resonates deeply. In the current context, it means Hong Kong's freedom from Beijing's political influence, and retaining its identity against the onslaught of China's investors, tourists and students.

"Hong Kong is changing, step by step," says business administration student Shirley Wong, 21. "It's time for us to take it back."

With protesters' emotions running so high, the authorities, in wanting them to go home, are giving a tall order.

For some protesters, the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying might be enough. This is especially so for those who had joined the initial group of pro- democracy supporters after being infuriated by what they decry as heavy-handed actions by the police, including the use of tear gas on Hong Kongers - the first time since riots rocked the city in 1967.

But many others are die-hard idealists who say they will not go home until they achieve their ultimate goal of "genuine democracy" - that is, public nomination instead of having a pro-Beijing nominating committee vet chief executive candidates.

"Even if CY steps down, there will be a second CY sent here by Beijing," says salesman Chifa Lee, 22, referring to Mr Leung. "It is best we get the maximum we can, given that we have some power on the streets now."

Some, however, want to go further. Says design student Tat Lou, 23: "I hope Hong Kong can break away from China's orbit and decide on its own future. I hope for Hong Kong's independence."

To achieve that, he is ready for violence, bloodshed - even death.

It may be just bravado speaking. But up against such youthful intransigence is a Beijing that is just as intractable.

The central government, say analysts, will not compromise even on lesser demands, including the stepping down of key officials such as Mr Leung or Beijing's representative here, Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming.

"That is tantamount to confessing that they were wrong," says China watcher Johnny Lau.

This means the possibility of a showdown cannot be ruled out, says analyst Willy Lam. Such a development could occur in the early hours of Friday, he suggests, when Hong Kong resumes work after two days of holiday, for National Day and Chung Yeung Festival.

"For Beijing, control is paramount," he explains. "It will rather lose face and risk the world's condemnation by using force against students, than risk losing control of Hong Kong."

Such talk inevitably evokes images of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, when People's Liberation Army tanks rolled onto the streets of Beijing. Many see historical parallels in what is happening on the streets of Hong Kong today.

It does not help when China's state-owned media fans the flames, such as when the nationalistic Global Times publishes an article suggesting that China's armed police could cross the border if the Hong Kong police cannot control the situation.

But could a drastic crackdown like Tiananmen really happen in Hong Kong?

It is really anyone's guess. But it bears remembering that the Hong Kong of 2014 is different from the Beijing of 1989.

Hong Kong is far away from the heart of China. The situation now is unlike that of Beijing students protesting near the doorsteps of Zhongnanhai - the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) headquarters - which had the potential to reverberate across the country. In that sense, whatever threat the Hong Kong students pose is relatively diffused and does not directly threaten the core of the CCP's power.

For now, what appears to be an emerging strategy for the Hong Kong government is to try to turn society against the protesters' actions. This was evident in the two press conferences held by Mr Leung and the police yesterday, when they lay the blame for emergency service disruptions, economic costs and public disorder on the protesters.

Whether it will work is another question.

Defiant protesters bring parts of HK to a standstill
They vow to stay until decision on constitutional reform is reversed
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

SWATHES of Hong Kong remained paralysed, with protesters unmollified by the government's gesture of withdrawing riot police.

In the worst political crisis in recent history, tens of thousands of people occupied the streets, vowing to stay "as long as it takes" to get Beijing to reverse its decision on the city's constitutional reform.

But Chief Secretary Carrie Lam yesterday ruled out such a possibility, calling it "unrealistic".

Black-clad protesters, mainly students, last night packed Harcourt Road and Connaught Road in Admiralty, all the way to the financial district of Central, in a largely peaceable sit-in.

They also occupied sections of residential area Wan Chai, shopping mecca Causeway Bay as well as Mongkok in Kowloon.

It was not just anger over Beijing's tough rules, which will restrict the choice of Hong Kong's chief executive to candidates who meet its approval, that drove the protesters. The use of tear gas by the police on Sunday appears to have backfired and brought many out onto the streets.

Student Solar Lau, 15, who joined the protesters yesterday after seeing the developments on television, cried as she spoke to The Straits Times: "How could they do this to us? We did nothing wrong. We just want the government to listen to our voices.

"Hong Kong is sick, seriously sick."

Hong Kong police said "minimum force" was used, and that warning was given before tear gas was unleashed.

Yesterday, the government sent negotiators to engage the protesters but they were jeered at by the crowds.

"Go, go, go, go," the protesters chanted.

The protests resulted in some 200 bus services being diverted or suspended. The tram service was halted. Also closed to traffic were roads such as Queensway and Cotton Tree Drive in front of skyscrapers like Lippo Centre and Cheung Kong Centre.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced the temporary closure of branches of 17 banks in affected areas. DBS shut its branch in Admiralty.

Companies like Singapore Airlines, which has an office in Admiralty, were also affected. Employees were told to work from home or from the airport, affecting ticketing counter service.

There were fears that tourism and retail trade could be hit, as China's Golden Week begins tomorrow.

Stocks were sharply down at the open, reflecting investor jitters. Analysts are, however, sanguine about any lasting impact with the Standard & Poor's agency predicting "minimal credit implications in the short term".

But all this depends on how protracted the crisis could be. Pundits believe the government will let them stay on till at least Thursday, the day after China's National Day. Both are public holidays.

Already, the celebratory fireworks show tomorrow has been cancelled "in view of the latest situation".

This means that Hong Kongers will not get to see the skies light up with this year's most highly anticipated design which sketches out the words "zhong guo ren" - or "Chinese people" - in simplified Chinese characters.

Gag order shows Beijing has serious concerns: Analysts
But it is unlikely to respond with hardline tactics just yet, they say
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

A GAG order on Chinese media outlets not to report on the unprecedented tumult in Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests reflects Beijing's serious concerns, say analysts, though they believe it will not resort to hardline actions yet.

Beijing's anxieties over the chaotic launch of the Occupy Central movement in the financial hub were revealed by reports that picture-sharing service Instagram had been blocked on the mainland from Sunday.

"Certainly, the central government is concerned and hoping that the majority of the Hong Kong people will stand up against the troublemakers and protect the city's prosperity," Renmin University analyst Zhang Tongxin told The Straits Times.

Reflecting the sensitivities, some mainland analysts contacted by The Straits Times declined to comment on the situation.

Protesters are demanding that Beijing reverses its rules for the 2017 Chief Executive election, which essentially allow only candidates approved by Beijing to stand.

Amid the restricted reporting, state-run Global Times and China Daily, in strongly worded editorials yesterday, derided the Occupy Central movement as being a futile attempt in overturning China's rules for the 2017 election and accused "political extremists" of damaging Hong Kong's global image.

Sun Yat-sen University analyst Zhou Pingxue downplayed any concerns over the protests. He told The Straits Times that Beijing has already made clear its Hong Kong policy will not change and that it will back the Hong Kong government in its handling of the situation - a point reiterated by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying at a regular briefing yesterday.

Some commentators believe that a more hardline response from Beijing - including deployment of mainland anti-riot police to Hong Kong if protests escalate - is a possible scenario, in the light of President Xi Jinping's recent pledge to uphold the mainland's policy towards the financial hub.

"Even though Hong Kong is governed by the Basic Law, there won't be any legal barrier if the situation changes and there is a need for the anti-riot police to be deployed there," wrote Professor Wang Qiang at the College of Armed Police, in a commentary published yesterday.

But Prof Zhang said Beijing will not resort to such tough measures so as to avoid escalating the situation and more importantly, fuelling concerns in Taiwan.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said in an interview published yesterday that the "Taiwanese people are paying close attention to the events in Hong Kong and hopes Hong Kong and China can come to a mutually acceptable solution on democracy".

China sees the "one country, two systems" model for Hong Kong as being applicable, too, for Taiwan in a tiered process towards reunification.

"The central government knows it has to show wisdom and capability in handling the Hong Kong situation because Taiwan is watching," Prof Zhang said.

Current unrest raises fears of more political conflicts to come
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2014

ABOVE the sea of black-clad youth massing on the roads of Admiralty, Hong Kong's famous glass and steel skyscrapers soar, as indomitable as ever.

While some of their offices and shops were empty yesterday - some companies asked their staff to work from home - expectations are that Hong Kong's well-oiled economy will be able to manage the impact of the protests, and continue to chug along.

The worry, rather, is the increasing political conflicts that seem inevitable, even after the current situation passes.

Beijing is likely to see Hong Kong as a delinquent child, and will punish it by exerting tighter control than ever, say analysts.

This sets it on a collision course with a generation of young Hong Kongers that surprised some the past weekend with their passion and stamina in protesting against the establishment.

"A new factor has appeared in the Hong Kong political equation - and that's people who can stand up to intimidation and be counted," says Hong Kong-based China watcher Willy Lam.

On what the two trends mean for Hong Kong's future, he acknowledges: "It sounds like a recipe for disaster."

Adds analyst Johnny Lau: "There will be more conflicts. Governance will become harder."

This is a scenario that Beijing is aware of, he believes.

Indeed, if it did not in the past, it should have realised by now that its hardline approach towards Hong Kong by leaving little room for discussion in its deci-sion on the city's constitutional reform had added fuel to the situation.

But, Mr Lau says: "To Beijing, it is not a problem.

"Hong Kong still has some economic value to Beijing. But it is just not as important as before."

Just as sobering is what the events over the weekend mean for many Hong Kongers - for both protesters and non-protesters.

One thing that emerges from numerous interviews is a belief that the clashes on Sunday between police and protesters were a visceral representation of the "failure" of the "one country, two systems" policy which guarantees Hong Kong a "high degree of autonomy".

Says Ms Kathy Kwan, 25, a band manager: "We need more independence from Beijing; a government that really listens to us and understands what we are talking about."

In particular, there is deep disillusionment with the Hong Kong government and what many decry as "heavy-handed" tactics by the police, such as the use of tear gas.

Law postgraduate student Ada Lee, 30, who is not participating in the student movement, says that she had originally blamed "radical democrats", including the Occupy Central organisers, for playing a game of brinkmanship with Beijing, and pushing the matter to "such a situation".

"But after the government used tear gas on the students, my heart broke."

Restoring the trust will clearly be an uphill task for the government - one among many.

HK leader won't budge amid calls for reform
Candidates need Beijing's approval, but 'system can be improved after 2017'
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2014

HONG Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying has rejected calls by pro-democracy activists for his government to restart the constitutional reform process, saying that this would be neither reasonable nor constructive.

He called on the different segments of society to "bear in mind" that "Hong Kong is a democracy within the concept of one country, two systems". This means that whatever the method of selecting the Chief Executive, the candidate requires the appointment of the central government in Beijing.

"This step is not common in other jurisdictions," he noted during a press conference yesterday, in an oblique reference to calls for Hong Kong to abide by "universal standards" of universal suffrage.

His remarks will not mollify the angry protesters now paralysing the city's roads in Admiralty and Wan Chai. The Occupy Central movement has demanded that Beijing retract its decision on Hong Kong's electoral system and that the entire process of constitutional reform be restarted.

On Aug 31, China's legislature, the National People's Congress, laid down strict rules on how Hong Kongers can elect their Chief Executive in 2017, which effectively meant candidates must be approved by Beijing.

Yesterday, Mr Leung argued that restarting the process will take a long time and could mean that Hong Kong will not be able to enact the necessary legislation in time for 2017.

He urged: "What we will have may not be compatible with different individuals' ideals. But it's better than what we have now, much better."

Hong Kong's leader is currently selected by a small circle of 1,200 members, mainly Beijing loyalists and vested interests' representatives. Under the new rules, a similar committee will vet candidates before the public is allowed to cast their votes. This is harsher than what even moderates on the political spectrum had hoped for.

Mr Leung held out the carrot that there could be room for further improvements to the system after 2017 if the people want, noting that there is "nothing in the Basic Law to prevent that".

But with trust in the Hong Kong and Beijing governments appearing to have broken down irrevocably, such calls for the pro-democracy camp to accept what is currently on the table appear futile, for now. Any proposal must get the support of two-thirds of Hong Kong's Legislative Council - which means that at least five pan-Democrat lawmakers must endorse it.

Social work academic Terry Lum, 50, who joined the protesters yesterday and is ready to be arrested, termed Beijing's rules "injustice". "We have been forced into this situation. Now, what we must do is not about getting results, but about inflicting maximum pain on the other side."

Hong Kong democracy protests turn violent
Cops fire tear gas; lockdown imposed on area around govt headquarters
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2014

THE heart of Hong Kong turned into a battlefield last night, with riot police facing off with enraged protesters.

At press time, the roads of Admiralty - known for its glittering office skyscrapers - remained a surreal landscape, with plumes of smoke and intermittent explosions as officers in gas masks fired volleys of tear gas into the crowd.

But the defiant demonstrators, many of them students, remained on the streets, calling for the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

Some moved westward to the financial hub of Central and some eastward into the residential district of Wan Chai and others, resulting in stoppages of bus and tram services in both areas.

At 10.40pm, the police imposed a lockdown on the area around the government headquarters in Admiralty.

In Beijing, a central government spokesman said it "firmly opposes all illegal activities that could undermine rule of law and jeopardise social tranquillity".

The tumult began shortly before 4pm, when hundreds of thousands of protesters proved too much for the police and swarmed into Harcourt Road and Connaught Road Central, next to the government headquarters.

Traffic on the two major arteries leading to Central and the airport was brought to a standstill.

Armed with umbrellas, goggles and plastic raincoats, the protesters charged repeatedly at police manning security barriers, undeterred by the sting of pepper spray used copiously on them.

At one point, police officers were seen using batons to hit those who came at them with umbrellas. "Police hit students!" roared the crowd, as the injured were stretchered away.

The violence broke out on the first day of Occupy Central, a civil disobedience movement to paralyse the roads and agitate for greater democracy. Its organisers had intended it to be a peaceful exercise, and one of them, Mr Benny Tai, last night admitted the situation was spiralling out of control.

It was also the climax of a tense weekend that began when students broke into the government compound last Friday night, leading to scuffles with the police that included the use of pepper spray. A total of 74 were arrested.

The protesters are angered by Beijing's announcement on Aug 31, which laid down strict rules on the city's chief executive election in 2017, essentially precluding pro-democracy candidates from running.

They are demanding Beijing rescind its decision and that the constitutional reform process be restarted.

Yesterday, Mr Leung, in his first remarks on the crisis, said his government is "resolute in opposing the unlawful occupation actions by Occupy Central".

With heavy rumours circulating that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) may move in to restore order, both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments stressed that the city was capable of holding the fort.

In a statement last night, the Hong Kong government emphasised that it has no intention of seeking help from the PLA.

A spokesman for China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the central government fully supports the Hong Kong government's handling of the matter in accordance with the law.

For now, though, protesters are determined to fight on. Said student Ting Leung Sun, 26: "We have nothing to lose, and we have nothing to be afraid of."

HK's march of youthful idealism
Younger generation of politicised, angrier student activists insists on democratic ideals
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 28 Sep 2014

Bespectacled and with toothy smiles, students Jolly Lam, 21, Clare Wong, 20, and Phoenix Ng, 21, quiver like a trio of shy rabbits.

In a low whisper, Ms Lam - a Chinese Studies undergraduate who wants to be a teacher - confides that she never, ever, skips classes. Except for last week.

What comes next is even more shocking. "I am willing to be arrested and jailed for any civil disobedience action if the government tries to introduce Article 23 again," she says, referring to a national security law shelved in 2003 after a protest march by half a million Hong Kongers. It would require the city to prohibit acts of "treason, secession, sedition, or subversion", and could, say, ban any group banned in mainland China.

Ms Lam and her friends were taking part in a week-long boycott of classes to protest against what activists denounce as "sham democracy". Last month, Beijing announced strict rules for the 2017 chief executive race, essentially restricting the contest to candidates it approves of.

On a Wednesday morning, hundreds of university students were sprawled out over the lush green of the Tamar Park next to the government headquarters in Admiralty. The air was almost carnival-like but for a lecture by Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) academic Edward Yiu on the link between cronyism and the city's housing woes.

Things however turned ugly on Friday night when over 100 students broke into the government compound, while thousands remained outside. Scuffles broke out between the police and protesters, with pepper spray and warnings failing to disperse the students. At least six have been arrested, including the leader of the Scholarism activist group Joshua Wong.

Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) secretary-general Alex Chow, 24, reportedly admitted that the action was pre-planned.

In Hong Kong's ongoing and deeply polarising battle for constitutional reform, students filled with youthful idealism and righteous rage have been at the forefront, often even moving ahead of older, more cautious activists.

On July 1, for instance, they went ahead with a mini-Occupy Central exercise in Chater Road despite the Occupy organisers' preference to wait until they had heard the decision from Beijing. More than 500 were arrested for illegal assembly, and obstructing the police.

The youth are Hong Kong's post-1990s generation, aged 24 and below, who grew up after the 1997 handover from British colonial rule to China. Their push for a bigger say in the city's affairs is often channelled through associations such as the HKFS - comprising university union members - and Scholarism, led by secondary school students.

Student activism is not new to Hong Kong.

In 1971, HKFS members were arrested for illegal demonstrations over the disputed Diaoyu Islands. Two years later, students staged an illegal sit-in to criticise the British government for its failure to tackle rampant corruption.

Students were also involved in advocating for the rights of the Yau Ma Tei boat people, who were living in overcrowded conditions. Among them was Professor Lui Tai Lok, now a Hong Kong University (HKU) sociologist, who recalls being arrested on a bus for illegal assembly en route to a protest at Government House.

In 2010, the post-1980s label came into vogue when young activists protested against the building of a high-speed railway linking Hong Kong to the mainland.

Now, an even younger, more politicised and angrier wave has appeared at the fore.

While protests in Hong Kong remain largely peaceful, confrontations have become more commonplace. In June, a melee broke out when protesters tried storming the Legislative Council building over New Territories town plans.

Prof Lui, who has written a book on Hong Kong's previous four generations, muses: "Nowadays, there are more angry young people who want to do something, and who are engaging in a lot of expressive actions."

Much of this stems from deep disenchantment with what Mr Chow terms a "twisted" political system that represents the interests of Beijing and businesses rather than those of the people.

In an earlier interview with Think, Mr Chow, a student of comparative literature and sociology at HKU, believes "street politics is more effective; it can generate pressure on the government".

He adds: "Violence can be justified at times."

Such sentiments are borne out by a study last year by the Ideas Centre, a research centre in the city, which polled more than 1,000 post-90ers and found that compared with their predecessors, they had greater distrust of authority, including the government and mainstream political parties.

Many respondents believed that protests, rallies and hunger strikes could empower people and bring about change, and that behaviour such as hurling objects or cursing at establishment figures, could help draw the public's attention. More than three-quarters of those polled said they believed disputes and conflicts were inevitable but they were optimistic that "if we fight back, it is possible to effect change".

Such thinking is condemned as radical, naive or political posturing by some older Hong Kongers.

But what drives the young?

Ironically, almost two decades after the handover and despite growing links, younger Hong Kongers are more estranged than ever from China. For post-90ers, what is at stake is the struggle for a collective local identity.

"I am a Hong Konger, not a Chinese," says CUHK science student Sasiphat Fung, 21, firmly. Citing issues such as human organ trafficking, she adds: "It embarrasses me to be a Chinese as many horrible things have happened in China."

A big part of the aspiration for a Hong Kong identity is the desire to be masters of their own destiny - not necessarily independence but to be able to choose their own leaders who "guard our interests, not Beijing's".

HKU sociologist Paul Yip says most students believe they occupy the moral high ground.

Influenced by Western liberal democratic ideas, their thoughts on issues such as political systems are refracted through such lenses because "they haven't seen a better model apart from the Western one", says Professor Yip. A Communist China that imprisons Nobel laureates like Liu Xiaobo inspires little admiration in them, he adds.

Meanwhile, British colonial rule is often viewed through rose-tinted glasses. HKU English studies student Rachel Ma, 18, puts it thus: "The British introduced democracy to Hong Kong before China took it away."

Prof Lui says drily: "There are very imaginative ideas of some kind of benign colonialism in Hong Kong where democracy flowered."

The sociologists blame inadequately nuanced teaching of history in schools. While the government has sought to include more Chinese history in the curriculum, some have noted that the "idealised" versions - grand narratives of modern China's rise - have backfired and drawn derision. On the other hand, Hong Kong's own colonial history is dealt with in broad strokes.

Meanwhile, the Internet provides inspiration with its snapshots of overseas student movements. Facebook and WhatsApp are influential tools for information dissemination, and for youth to organise themselves.

Ultimately though, those willing to go all the way in civil disobedience remain in the minority. Even as thousands of students skipped classes last week, many more stayed in school.

Some also question the effectiveness of the youth's actions. "There is a lot of passion but most are not actions aiming at some tangible result," said Prof Lui. "There are no proposals of reform or future directions."

Eventually, the students will go home, though for some, the "fight for democracy" is likely to go on.

Their critics might hope that as they grow up, they will channel their energies into more pragmatic concerns like landing jobs and raising families. But even in this, post-1997 Hong Kong administrations - under which inequality grew, home prices rose and job opportunities shrank - have done little to foster confidence in the future among post-90ers.

Issues of identity will also not be so easily resolved and, as the past 17 years have shown, time is not necessarily on the establishment's side.

This means that even when the current strife passes, Hong Kong's kernel of unhappiness will continue to fester.

An open letter to HK protesters
Comparisons between the protests in Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square are unfounded. Meanwhile, solutions are possible if pan-democrats and pro-Beijing leaders can seek a compromise.
By Raymond W. Yin, Published The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2014

AS A senior overseas Chinese who has lived in the United States for almost 50 years, I have really not needed to worry about the future of Hong Kong.

That is until the recent dramatic and unexpected developments there. Because my loved ones and seven million of my compatriots live in the city, I cannot stand by and watch them led astray into a political cul-de-sac by a few people with questionable intentions, maybe even ulterior motives, without saying something.

Though my words may not be welcome, I must still speak the truth or I will not be at peace with my conscience.

Among you, the three initiators of the so-called "Occupy Central" movement, two are university professors and one a religious figure. Under normal circumstance, you all should enjoy respect as scholars. But apparently you are not familiar with prevailing world circumstances, nor do you understand history. You self-righteously proclaim that you represent the people while encouraging idealistic but naive youth to break the law in order to pursue unrealistic political objectives. If this is not prompted by some kind of ulterior motives, then your ignorance causes me to sigh with despair.

Please answer me these questions:
- In the British colonial days, did you elect the governors?
- Has the universal suffrage reform framework, passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), violated the Basic Law? You say it is not in line with "international standards" but define "international standards". Please also explain which country's electoral mechanism measures up to the so-called "international standards".
- Professor Chan Kin Man, you have repeatedly said the refusal of the NPCSC to accept your political reform proposals is humiliating to you personally. What if the central government were to say that you have humiliated them with your remarks instead? What would you say?
- The development of democracy is a gradual process. It cannot be rushed nor can it be implemented in haste. Otherwise, serious problems would arise. The central government says it wants to ensure only a patriotic person can become Chief Executive of Hong Kong. What is wrong with that? Would you rather a turncoat be elected to the post? It is simply part of the selection process under an, as yet, imperfect reform framework, but it is a good start. We will be able to improve it as we gain more experience with its implementation. But if you rush the process, you are likely to mess up things, and we will all suffer. Can you afford to bear this responsibility?
- The three of you who initiated Occupy Central are academics and a member of the clergy. Your responsibility is to nurture talent, not to take it onto the streets in defiance of the law at the risk of ruining the future of your charges. Don't be presumptuous about the absolute integrity of your position. Bear in mind that there is that silent majority who might not share your views. I would counsel you to read more history and learn from the mistakes of mankind's past. You may then gain an awareness of the dangers of unpredictability and not seeing the wood for the trees. Most of all, you must avoid violence. Don't be besotted with apparent Western superiority and practice. Always think twice before you act.
Tell me, if Beijing were to accept your demands for "one person, one vote" in Hong Kong, and the people on the mainland also were to follow suit in electing the president of the country, where do you think it would lead us in the current situation? If Hong Kong and the nation are in chaos, you can emigrate abroad to become slaves of a foreign master. But what can the other Hong Kongers and mainlanders do?

When the United States sent troops overseas with the intention of "saving" Iran, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the reasons were that in those countries the rulers were despotic and their peoples had no freedom. But look at the consequences now.

The rulers were either killed, jailed or ran away, but are their peoples freer now? Do they have a better life?
- Ms Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Mr Martin Lee Chu Ming went to Britain to seek support. Do you think that it is right? Mr Chris Patten says the NPCSC passed a fake election framework. Please ask him this question for me: Was he elected to his previous role as governor of Hong Kong by the Hong Kong people?
- Deng Xiaoping made a commitment to maintain the status quo of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) for 50 years. Has that been changed?
Later, this commitment became the Basic Law and Hong Kong received full support from the mainland. Consequently, the SAR overcame many difficulties, leading to today's prosperity and stability. You should cherish the recent gains.

Where on earth can we find a perfect universe? There is no perfect system. And there is no need to insist on everything now. It is better to take the long-term view, hoping for the prosperity of the motherland and improving the quality of people's lives. Peace and democracy will bear fruit, and Hong Kong and mainland citizens will be better for it. We must have patience.

I have studied and worked in the US and Canada for nearly 50 years. I understand that Western democracy is no panacea. For success, it requires an upgrade in the quality of the people. According to the prevailing view, democracy is a blessing in Europe and the US (though not perfect) but a poison in Taiwan, and a disaster in the Arabic world. I predict it would create chaos in China and cause the people to suffer. Do you not understand this obvious truth?

The author is a retired MD and FRCP in the US and Honored Member of Who's Who in Health & Medical Services. CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Hong Kong's Basic Law and political reform
Hong Kong has a Constitution which currently sets out the extent and limits of Beijing's authority over the selection of the territory's Chief Executive
By Lim Chin Leng, Published The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2014

Some senior Hong Kong figures have spoken about unfulfilled treaty promises made between Britain and China. Yet the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 says nothing about choosing Hong Kong's Chief Executive by the votes of five million people. The document which matters here is Hong Kong's Basic Law.

Prior to the handover in 1997, the colonial government expended considerable effort in democratising Hong Kong's Legislative Council or "LegCo". This process, that commenced in earnest in 1984 in the form of a Green Paper, and subsequently in a White Paper, nonetheless had to await the outcome of discussions between 23 representatives of Hong Kong and 36 representatives from Beijing on the enactment of a Basic Law.

No colonial-led reform in the run-up to the handover which did not converge with the Basic Law, in which Britain had no hand in the making, would have been practicable as the Basic Law would apply after the handover.

Dubbed a "mini-Constitution" for Hong Kong, the Basic Law is no treaty, and is a document no more sacred than a piece of Mainland Chinese legislation.

But when Lord Chris Patten, Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, proposed the reform of LegCo elections in a speech in October 1992, during LegCo's opening session, he acknowledged that such reforms will have to conform not only to the Joint Declaration but also the Basic Law.

That was the colonial government's understanding, notwithstanding Lord Patten's own, substantial and controversial efforts to democratise LegCo.

In treaty terms, if Britain condescended to look to the Basic Law for guidance on the practical implementation of the Joint Declaration, then it may be said that this is how the Joint Declaration should also be interpreted.

In practical legal terms, all roads lead to the Basic Law, what it says and how it should be interpreted. It is also the Basic Law which provides for the possibility of a democratically elected Chief Executive; the colonial government having shown no interest in replacing the governor with such a person.

Ultimate aim and ultimate authority

It is the Basic Law which says in Article 45 that "the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

But the ultimate legal authority to interpret that ultimate aim lies with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), a body which is also vested with legislative power under Chinese socialist legality.

In order to understand the NPCSC's role, we need to return to Article 45, which states: "The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation" in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region "and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress".

Annex I of the Basic Law adds that "if there is a need" to amend the selection method "for the terms subsequent to the year 2007" - there may be none - such an amendment must be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of LegCo, and the consent of the present Chief Executive, "and they shall be reported to" the NPCSC "for approval".

The first thing the NPCSC did, in 2004, was to interpret Annex I by requiring the Chief Executive to make a recommendation to the NPCSC before tabling an amendment before LegCo.

But in that year, the NPCSC also rendered a decision precluding any reform by 2007.

It explained that in the light of the need to address the "actual situation", and the principle of "gradual and orderly progress", it had found that while some wanted reform by 2007, there was nevertheless no broad consensus within Hong Kong society to move forward with reforms.

In the following year, the second Chief Executive, Mr Donald Tsang, proposed enlarging the current election committee which elects the Chief Executive from a body of 800 to 1,600 people. His proposal was defeated in the LegCo.

It was not until 2007 that consultations began anew with the issuance of a Green Paper, leading to another decision by the NPCSC in 2007.

In that decision, again the existing system was preserved for electing the Chief Executive in 2012. But the NPCSC did add that election by universal suffrage may take place in 2017.

Thus began a new consultation process last year which culminated in the fateful decision of the NPCSC of Aug 31 this year.

This decision envisages "two to three" candidates, requires a majority vote of the 1,200 members to secure a candidature, and provides for an election by all of Hong Kong's voters in 2017.

Basic Law as starting point and end point

It may be that this latest decision goes too far in restricting nominations for the 2017 election. Some might even ask how, if the Basic Law is so important, that it has only got us here. But it is not difficult to imagine the general satisfaction which the drafters of Article 45 must have felt. Seven years after the Basic Law was passed, a mere 400 people went on to elect the first Chief Executive. Seventeen years on, the average age of today's student protester, Beijing not only says that Hong Kong can have universal suffrage but also that it will.

In recent weeks, however, the Basic Law has been quoted in the press as if it had emerged from Alice's Looking Glass World - no more than a source of fallow phrases from which we pick the ones we want to mean whatever we want. This comes from the Basic Law saying too little with hopeful but scant words ("universal suffrage", "democratic procedure" and a "broadly representative" nominating committee) and too much at the same time (by referring to the "actual situation in Hong Kong", "gradual and orderly progress", having a democratically elected Chief Executive as merely an "ultimate aim", and by requiring a "nominating committee").

This only makes it more important for those opposed to the NPCSC to state their own interpretation, with articulacy and not simply hope, desire and disappointment. As Sir David Akers Jones once described it, we cannot descend into a debate scripted by Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan - "that's what it says", "no it doesn't", "yes it does", "No. It doesn't". The NPCSC is the ultimate authority on what the Basic Law means, but it does not have carte blanche. The NPCSC cannot say that the Basic Law is a cucumber from Mars.

Once the dust settles, the people of Hong Kong - protesters and others - may realise the significance of this truth, and find a need to return to the Basic Law, both as a starting point and for the end point upon which the very foundations of their current and future actions and beliefs rest.

That starting point would be the right to vote and stand for elections under the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, including the Basic Law's guarantee that an international treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, shall apply.

These legal statements of right will have to be read with Article 45, and if the question comes before the courts, it could give pause and breathing room for all.

In my Law Of The Hong Kong Constitution with Johannes Chan, we had anticipated incredulity that we, together with our colleagues, have somehow succeeded in producing a thousand pages of fiction. So we began by explaining that a "Hong Kong Constitution" does exist because all parties - in Hong Kong and Beijing - consider the Basic Law to be so, and because the public issues of the day are debated according to its terms.

Yet such debate has become muted amid the sounds of the fiercest political controversy which Hong Kong has had to bear in recent memory. The Basic Law has fallen behind Twitter and Instagram, and has no purchase in the makeshift tents in Connaught Road.

If Hong Kong's age of restrained constitutional debate has now passed, unnoticed, beneath a sea of umbrellas, and is to be surpassed by university seminars on civil disobedience, then this would signify more than the passing of an era.

It would mark the demise of a shared framework for public-political debate which has been credited for post-handover Hong Kong's spectacular success.

Lim Chin Leng is Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Professor at King's College London, a practising London barrister and member of Hong Kong's Committee on Pacific Economic Cooperation. The second edition of Law Of The Hong Kong Constitution will be published by Sweet & Maxwell next year.

Whither Hong Kong, after the protest movement?
There's a risk that as hopes for change dim, the young will become disillusioned with their home
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent and Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief, The Sunday Times, 19 Oct 2014

Lau Wai Hung is part of Hong Kong's future. But he is not so sure that Hong Kong is part of his.

The 23-year-old business administration student, bright-eyed with an irrepressible grin despite nights of camping out on the tarmac in Admiralty, says: "If the government doesn't offer anything, it'd be very disappointing after we fought so hard and yet peacefully. What does that mean for Hong Kong?"

He muses: "To be honest, I probably wouldn't want to care very much about the news or what happens anymore. If I can, I will emigrate. Maybe I'll go to Malaysia - I just visited and housing there is cheap. I don't want Taiwan because it will become a Hong Kong, more and more economically dependent on China."

Students like Mr Lau who are leading Hong Kong's Occupy movement, now in its 22nd day, to agitate for what they call "genuine democracy", have been branded by their detractors as idealistic, even naive.

Indeed, the outlook doesn't look promising for their aspirations.

While the saga is still playing out, the central government has already made it clear that it will not budge on the students' demands. Among other things, the young people want it to rescind its Aug 31 decision that will essentially allow only Beijing-anointed candidates to run for the chief executive election in 2017.

So when the dust settles on the unrest - Hong Kong's worst since the 1997 handover - one key question is: What to do with this generation of young Hong Kongers, their passions and their hopes?

It is also clear that there will be reverberations in other areas, such as the fraught relationship between the two sides of the Shenzhen River.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the crisis, it will not be back to business as usual for Hong Kong and for Beijing.

Cracking the whip

One question is the fate of beleaguered Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

While cries for his resignation have been growing, Beijing will not want to show that it is caving in to pressure from the streets. A senior Chinese official in Hong Kong stresses that the central government remains stoutly behind him.

But it is possible that he could be eased out, or at least barred from running a second term, after a face-saving interval. This follows a series of leaks - the timing has raised eyebrows - about his acceptance of HK$50 million (S$8.2 million) in fees from an Australian company while in office, which he did not declare.

Beyond Mr Leung's destiny, what the movement has clearly shown is that the position of the Hong Kong chief executive is quite untenable.

Each of the three men who have taken on the mantle since 1997 became progressively more unpopular as they tried to juggle between answering to two masters - an opaque, monolithic Beijing leadership and an open, pluralistic Hong Kong society.

Mr Leung, in particular, is viewed by critics as an ineffectual intermediary in representing and lobbying for Hong Kongers' interests on issues such as autonomy and constitutional reform. He, charges pro-democracy academic Joseph Cheng, "simply toes Beijing's line".

Those on the pro-democracy end of the spectrum believe this imbalance can be redressed by unfettered universal suffrage that gives the chief executive a popular mandate. This, Beijing will not grant, says a Hong Kong-based mainland analyst who advises the establishment, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Still, there is recognition that the system is not working and needs revision to make the chief executive "more effectual". One reason is that he is not allowed to be a member of any political party, which makes him vulnerable to an intractable elected legislature.

"It is clear we need some revision of the system, to have a systematic way of grooming political talent and to develop an institutionalised political alliance to support the chief executive," he says.

A second key issue under the spotlight is Hong Kong's relationship with Beijing.

Mutual distrust underpins it. Powers in Beijing have long believed that the city - given its colonial heritage, its role as a haven for political dissidents and its openness to "foreign influences" - is ripe for subversion. Hence the dragging of its feet over Hong Kong's democratisation and the Aug 31 rules, even as officials claim the door is not closed to further reforms after 2017.

Suspicion on Hong Kong's part means that many are not willing to "pocket" what is now on the table, seeing it as a mere front to legitimise a system to install one of a few chosen "Beijing stooges".

This has resulted in the crisis today - which has entrenched the wariness on both sides.

In particular, the so-called "radicalism" of the protesters has given ammunition to the hardline faction in Beijing, for whom a popular narrative is that Hong Kong is like a child that it has been too lax with in the past. Now, the whip must be cracked.

The ramifications of the movement for Beijing also go beyond Hong Kong itself: There are worries that it could fuel similar sentiments and prompt copycat actions on the mainland, especially in restive regions like Tibet and Xinjiang, says mainland law scholar Teng Biao.

Thus, going ahead, Beijing will become even more hardline towards Hong Kong, believes political scientist Peter Cheung. "I'm very pessimistic that however this is settled, its policy will be tightened in all dimensions."

The "one country, two systems" framework notwithstanding, Hong Kong can expect more interference from up north, he says, whether in terms of media control or even wanting a say in university vice-chancellorship appointments.

But fears that Beijing will withdraw its preferential economic policies are less well founded. While Hong Kong is no more the only goose that lays the golden egg for China, it remains an important one.

For a while now, Hong Kong's critics have been calling attention to its fading vitality. Its economy is now 3 per cent of China's, down from 16 per cent in 1997.

But the city's advantages - such as rule of law and strong institutions - will not be so easily replicated. And Professor Chen Guanghua of the National Research Association on Hong Kong and Macau believes it remains strategically important to China.

"Beijing doesn't want to see Hong Kong decline because it remains very useful as a financial city in spearheading the mainland's liberalisation efforts."

So-called "red investments" in the city - by Chinese officials and state-owned enterprises - are also another reason that Beijing will desist from punishing Hong Kong too hard economically.

A fractured society

A more immediate question for Hong Kong is how it can begin the process of healing, having been polarised like never before.

Even as a spirit of camaraderie infuses the protest sites, as strangers bond over a common cause, the larger society has fissured over differences in opinion.

Families have been split, often along generational lines. Friendships have soured, and even some marriages are on the rocks, according to protesters.

Meanwhile, the trust between police and public has deteriorated, following the controversial use of tear gas and television footage of officers kicking an activist. All this, on top of a general downbeat sentiment even before the movement.

A survey last month by the Chinese University found that more than one in five Hong Kongers are so pessimistic about the city's political future that they are thinking of leaving for good.

Separately, a small poll by a local newspaper found that among 175 protesters aged between 15 and 35, more than half said the outcome of Occupy will affect their decisions on whether to emigrate or have children in Hong Kong.

It is this generation that needs special attention, say analysts.

Many are Hong Kong's post-1990s, who grew up after the 1997 handover. For most, their identity is deeply anchored as "Hong Kongers", not "Chinese". Though those who call for "independence" remain firmly on the fringe, many do feel little cultural affinity with China, and even less love for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government. Their idea of democracy is informed by liberal democratic ideals.

There is little indication that Beijing will be swayed by their passion of the past three weeks and the danger is that as their hopes dim, they - Hong Kong's young - will become disillusioned with their home.

For now, the only thing that can be done is to at least help them with their socio-economic needs, say analysts. The protesters have linked their calls for democracy and greater accountability to problems such as a widening income gap, social immobility and an economy dominated by property and financial interests.

Says the mainland analyst: "We need a new breakthrough in thinking. The government has recognised this problem now, that businessmen are getting most of the benefits and the lower classes are unhappy. We need to push harder on diversifying the economy so that there are more job opportunities for the young ones."

Concurring, Professor Sun Xiliang of the Central South University believes Beijing has to distance itself from Hong Kong's elite and rely less on them to improve its standing in the city. He notes how a rare meeting in Beijing between President Xi Jinping and a Hong Kong delegation led by former chief executive Tung Chee Hwa, and including tycoons like Mr Li Ka Shing, last month did little to avert the protests from taking place shortly after.

Trying to force young Hong Kongers to "love the country" will be much tougher.

One novel suggestion is to make Hong Kong youth spend some time in military training, like what their mainland counterparts are doing.

"A stint of not less than three months in Hong Kong could instil a sense of national obligation and duty among the youth, and thus a deeper sense of national identity," says Prof Sun. "I believe the central government might do this in the next five years."

Such ideas are far easier said than done. A pet project of Beijing - to introduce national education in schools here - was shelved in 2012 after it was decried as brainwashing in a massive protest led by the Scholarism, the same student group that is an organiser of today's Occupy movement.

Mr Lau, the student, for one, sputters with incredulity at the idea that making young Hong Kongers like him serve in the army will make them feel "more Chinese".

His only question is this: "How does that change our image of the CCP government as one that is brutal to its own citizens, censors the media and locks up (Chinese human rights activist) Liu Xiaobo? That's not part of a future I want."

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