Students Deny Reports of 'Divisions' in Hong Kong Democracy Movement

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A protester group holds a rally in Kowloon's Mong Kok district, in Hong Kong, Oct. 30, 2014.
A protester group holds a rally in Kowloon's Mong Kok district, in Hong Kong, Oct. 30, 2014.

One of the main student figures at the heart of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests has denied reports that cracks are appearing in the organizers' unity over how to keep up momentum in the five-week-old civil disobedience campaign.

Many of the students and die-hard protesters who have occupied major highways in the former British colony for nearly five consecutive weeks have vowed to remain until the government meets its demands for full universal suffrage in 2017 elections for the chief executive.

But Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper on Thursday reported "serious divisions" within the Occupy movement, with some arguing for an "early surrender" in the face of Beijing's refusal to change an Aug. 31 ruling on electoral reform.

The concept of "surrender" apparently refers to a tactical decision by protesters to turn themselves in to the authorities at sections of highway currently under High Court injunctions.

Lester Shum, deputy head of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), said any divisions weren't apparent in the students' union, however.

"There is no division within the ranks of the HKFS," Shum told RFA's Cantonese Service on Thursday. "No one is talking about an early surrender."

The Ming Pao also said a meeting was planned for Sunday, to discuss the next step for the movement, which has already held talks with Hong Kong government officials without winning major concessions.

But Shum said he knew nothing of Sunday's reported meeting.

"I haven't been informed about it," he said. "Because the HKFS has no intention of withdrawing [from the occupied sites]."

He said students and other leaders of the movement already hold frequent discussions about how to proceed. "But there is no timetable for wrapping the movement up so far," Shum said.

Meanwhile, Joshua Wong, convener of the academic activism group Scholarism, issued a warning to Hong Kong's political establishment.

"The protest movement may not ultimately bear fruit," Wong wrote in a commentary in The New York Times. "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," Wong said.

"No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us," he wrote in an article translated from Chinese.

And HKFS leader Alex Chow told government broadcaster RTHK that students are considering the possibility of traveling to Beijing for next week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leadership summit.

Chow said "various groups" are discussing the viability of the plan, but indicated that the group hadn't made any concrete plans to meet with officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

Barricades in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Oct. 30, 2014. Credit: RFA
Barricades in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, Oct. 30, 2014. Credit: RFA RFA
Long-term process

Some protesters are beginning to argue that a lot of the spontaneity that captured world headlines and spurred the movement in the days immediately following police attacks with tear gas on Sept. 28 has now dissipated into a more predictable, long-term process.

"The line between a spontaneous protest and a civil disobedience movement is increasingly blurred now," a protester surnamed Hui told RFA.

"I hope that the Occupy organizers can come together to discuss things, and give some of us here a clearer direction," she said.

"Would we be 'surrendering' so as to protest another day?" she said. "If it's just a symbolic thing, I don't see the point in doing it."

A Hong Kong University student surnamed Lee said she has been camping on the Occupy site in Admiralty since the early stages of the campaign.

"We feel as if we don't know where we are going, and we are just waiting here, because if the government doesn't do anything, we can't do anything," Lee said.

"Some of the Occupy organizers have gone back to class, so we are under a lot of pressure right now," she said. "People will probably say, if the organizers are getting on with their normal lives, then why are you still here blocking the road and obstructing our normal lives?"

But Lee said she still planned to remain until the protesters' demands are met.

"If we were to leave now, I'd be worried that there would be less freedom of speech and freedom of association in future," she said.

An older protester surnamed So said withdrawing now wouldn't necessarily constitute a failure, however.

"A lot of younger people have been very touched by this movement," So said. "I think the young people of the future will speak out even more loudly for greater democracy in Hong Kong's political system in the future."

The Ming Pao cited interviews with 210 Occupy protesters, saying that 48 percent wouldn't take part in any surrender, while 38 percent are undecided.

Some 95 people who spoke to the paper said they didn't believe they were in breach of the law, but are simply exercising their right to freedom of association promised under international rights treaties and the promise of a "high degree of autonomy" following the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

'Fake universal suffrage'

Beijing has repeatedly said the Occupy Central movement is "illegal," but Hong Kong officials have taken a more diplomatic stance since police use of tear gas brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets to swell the movement, and sent video and social media accounts of the Sept. 28 clashes streaming live around the world.

Since then, the mostly peaceful protests have occupied major highways and intersections near government headquarters in Admiralty district and in the busy shopping districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, amid sporadic clashes with police and anti-Occupy protesters.

The Occupy Central movement, also known as the "Umbrella Movement" after protesters used umbrellas to ward off police attacks with tear gas and pepper spray, is calling on Beijing to allow public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections, and for the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

China's rubber-stamp parliament the National People's Congress (NPC) announced on Aug. 31 that while all of Hong Kong's five million voters will cast a ballot for the first time in the 2017 poll for a new chief executive, they may only choose between candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing nomination committee.

Pan-democratic politicians and Occupy protesters have dismissed the Aug. 31 ruling as "fake universal suffrage," and called on the Hong Kong government to renegotiate the election arrangements with Beijing, demanding Leung's resignation over the use of tear gas.

But Anson Chan, former Hong Kong second-in-command, said the Occupy Central movement is at heart about far more than just an electoral reform plan.

"The social pressures that have led to this eruption of anger and defiance of authority have been building for years," said Chan, who now heads a civil think tank campaigning for democracy. She said the students feel that Hong Kong's core values are threatened by Beijing's hold on the city.

The students are "fighting for their future, a future they see threatened by a steady erosion of ... core values and freedoms," she wrote in a commentary in the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Chan said Leung's administration has "lost all moral authority to govern" after it misrepresented the views of Hong Kong people in its report to China's NPC.

She called on his second-in-command Carrie Lam to make a fresh report on public opinion to Beijing, and to come up with a new set of proposals that allow all voters a say in the make-up of the 1,200-strong nominating committee, within the bounds of the Aug. 31 ruling.

She said the government has also greatly underestimated popular support for the abolition of corporate and sectoral "functional constituencies" in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, hitting out at Leung's recent comments on preventing the city's poorest people from dominating its politics as "unbelievably insensitive."

Leung told overseas journalists last week: "If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than U.S. $1,800 a month."

He said the election committee that chose him narrowly with a total of just 689 votes in 2012 had been weighted to protect the interests of "minority groups."

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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